You do not have to talk to Conrad Williams for long to know he is truly a team player.
One of former Olympic Champion Linford Christie’s talented crop of athletes at Brunel University, Williams was in the thick of life in the athlete’s village of Glasgow 2014 prior to last Thursday’s Opening Ceremony, despite the heats of the men’s 4x400m relay not being due on track until this Friday.
It is a situation others in England ranks have studiously gone out of their way to avoid, preferring to make their final preparations at home in solitude. But the 32-year is though it seems made of different stuff and loves the big athletics family, believing ‘village’ life with all its hype is to be embraced.
“I’m settling in nice and tight in the village, he said. “You do get caught up in all the excitement if you are here early, but I like all of that.
“I soak up the experience and all the atmosphere and you miss out on all the team stuff if you are not here. The hype is all part of it because this is the Commonwealth Games. I’m not going to wait another four years to experience it.”
Perhaps that explains why Williams has made his name as the Mr Dependable lead-off man of the 4x400m relay squad.
It is role many runners of the one lap known as the man killer shun, an unglamorous role if you like, a world away from the death or glory final surge for the line of the anchor leg, yet potentially disastrous if you screw it up.
It calls for someone prepared to risk failure and a ‘musketeer’ type attitude, and Williams evidently fits the bill.
“The thing about running the first leg of the relay is not to mess it up for the other three guys on duty as they want to run as well,” he said.
“You have to brave to lead off because there are not many people who want to do it. They are happier to chase people down rather than build a lead or stay as close to the guy in front as you can.
“I treat it as my final against seven or eight other guys and just try to make sure my team-mates get to be involved as well. The pressure is on me not to lose the race. If I do that job the pressure is off the next guy.
"You are always trying to minimise the last guy’s job. He should be in front with no traffic to negotiate and no decisions to make because the first three guys should have made all his decisions for him.”
If we look for reasons for why Williams’ DNA works in this way, his early sporting life provides all the clues. It appears athletics was the last resort for someone who always wanted to be a team player. Basketball was his first love, followed by football, while he admits athletics was ‘third in line if neither of the other two worked out.’
Even when his dreams of a career in ball sports failed to materialize he was a reluctant runner at first. “I did not show much interest in it really and just ran out of curiosity,” he said.
However, reluctant or not Williams had talent and was recruited into the Kent AC team after just one training session with the club in August 2001, despite unconventional running gear.
“The guys there got me up to speed and the following year I was in the U23s, but I used to run in football shorts because I did not have any lycra,” he said.
His light-bulb moment when the sport came alive to him soon followed amid the humble surroundings of a league meeting in Watford, and ultimately meant the move to Brunel and the tutelage of Christie in 2007.
“I ran a fast time that my friend said was really quick, he said. “I don’t know what time I ran but that was the moment I realised I was going to have to run properly.
“I was the only 400m runner at Brunel back then, but Nigel Levine and all of the others finally came later. It was a move I had to make to progress and bridge the gap to the Americans.”
Seven years on seven major championship medals - five silvers and two bronze have justified the move as with or without the baton - Williams is still clocking out the laps. His recent season’s best of 45.53 in the Diamond League meeting in Monaco suggests he is peaking just in time for Glasgow and the European Championships in Zurich which follow just a week later.
“I made up my mind in January on my trip to South Africa that I wanted the push in my season to be June, July and August with the Commonwealth Games in mind, he added.
“The selection for Glasgow was so early and I wanted to try and do both it and the Europeans, plus there is Diamond League stuff, so trying to peak at the right time is tricky.”
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