Why Bianca Williams sets the standard

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Why Bianca Williams sets the standard

The British sprinter is a great role model – both on and off the track – as she competes at the 200m World Championships

“Mom, will you run fast?” Three-year-old Zuri Dos Santos looks at Bianca Williams quizzically. The track is his playground and he admires the talent around him.

“I love taking Zuri to the track with me,” says Williams, who describes his joy in learning to use blocks and how he cheers her on during practice. “Kids are great imitators, so give them something to imitate.”

A European and Commonwealth gold medalist in the 4x100m, the 29-year-old made her debut for Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the European Under-20 Championships in 2011. She won bronze in the 200m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and reached 200m semi-finals at the London 2017 World Championships.

Williams has long been successful, but now, more than ever, she’s also a role model.

Zuri was born at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. It was an uncertain time for everyone, but it brought a unique set of challenges for Williams and her partner Ricardo Dos Santos, a Portuguese sprinter, as they balanced parenthood with elite sport and relative isolation .

When I imagine having a baby, I imagine people coming over with lasagna and bringing all this food that I’m going to put in the freezer,” she laughs. “This has never happened. It was hard.

“People really didn’t know what Covid was like spreading at that time, so they didn’t want to see the baby in case they had it and betrayed it. It was hard in that sense, but then it was nice because we could just be a family of three.

As Dos Santos continued to train for the soon-to-be-postponed Olympics, Williams and baby Zuri accompanied him to the track. She started walking around the oval with the pram, but after six weeks she started moving more and doing light jogging exercises. “All of a sudden I was doing 200s,” she says.

She began working with Linford Christie – now Dos Santos’ trainer – and took advantage of the family setting as she began her gradual reintroduction into the athlete’s life. “It made sense for us both to be in the same place with the baby,” says the Thames Valley athlete.

Bianca Williams (Mark Shearman)

“Looking back, I could have spent more time [to get back into it], but there is no right or wrong way. I guess it was just harder because I couldn’t get the support I really, really needed. Everything was done via Zoom and I didn’t get to see a physical therapist or pelvic floor specialist. It was hard.

“Linford was great. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go – I was worried about getting into his group because he had worked so well with Lloyd (Cowan) – but seeing Zuri with Linford, they have the best relationship, they have the most perfect relationship. It works really, really well and I can’t imagine being anywhere else. It just feels like home.”

Williams gradually returned to full fitness and competed at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games in 2022. She captained GB & NI for the European Team Championships in June and in July finished second in the 200m at the UK Athletics Championships in 22.59 – her second fastest 200m ever and fastest since 2014 – to secure a place in the British team for the World Athletics Championships in Budapest. She finished third in the 100 meters in 11.29, which was also a season best.

Athletes are often seen as role models. Their stories of success, of overcoming adversity or simply of hard work and perseverance are amplified in an attempt to raise their profiles above those of today’s social media stars.

Williams is a role model regardless of medals and motherhood, but her perception of such a position has changed dramatically since March 2020.

“Now I’m a mother, everything is different,” she admits. “[Children] they really look up to you, they echo what you say, they echo what you do, so I definitely want to be the best person for Zuri to look up to and be a good role model for other young girls who to watch and think, “Wow, she’s done this, she’s done that, she can do anything.”

“Even for Zuri, I feel like coming back from pregnancy and being the best that I can be shows him that anything is possible, that he can do anything if he puts his mind to it and works hard.”

However, she adds that the UK can be a “terrible” and “unpredictable” place to grow up, especially for a young black boy.

“God forbid something happens, but the thought of him coming home after a night on the 17th or 18th is just worrying and I shouldn’t be fearing for my son’s life like that,” she says.

It’s a feeling no parent should have to endure, but which was heightened by the trauma of being pulled over by police with her partner and her then three-month-old baby in July 2020.

Footage of the incident, in which the pair were handcuffed and searched, was widely shared on social media and following an investigation it was confirmed that five Metropolitan Police officers will face a gross misconduct hearing.

Throughout the case, Williams acted with remarkable dignity and maturity. She says she responded the way she did because she wants the world to be a better place for Zuri than it was for her.

Change takes time, even more so if it is institutionalized or rooted in communities, but are things better than they were three years ago?

“I want to say yes, but no,” Williams says. “It’s just the harsh reality of being a black person in the UK. It’s sad we had to go through it, but I’m glad we had to go through it.

“Ricardo tells me that sometimes you have to crawl before you can walk, and I feel like we have to be the ones who are crawling, so hopefully when our hearing is over and everything is settled, then other people can they walk.’

She added: “It’s a shame that people don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe anymore. Every time I see a police car, my anxiety just shoots through the roof. I always look around and think: “Are they behind me, are they going to stop me, are they going to look in the car?”.

“It’s terrible, but it’s just the way it is. Something has to be done, something has to be put in place for real change to take place.

“It’s so easy for people to say they want to make a change, but what are they really going to do to make that change happen?”

At least the sport brought Williams great happiness. Until recently, she worked in recruiting to help fund her athletics career, but now coaches young tennis players. “I’ve always said that if you’re happy, you’ll run fast,” she says. “Now I love sports. I feel like having a baby really changed my outlook on sports in general. It’s my priority, but it’s not everything.

“Sports is a wonderful place. But it’s hard and it can be really crappy. I’ve had years where I didn’t run well and I didn’t have support and you just second-guess yourself, you judge everything and everyone, but when you have your highs, it’s beautiful, it changes your life, it’s magical, and I really want Zuri to experience the magic, and so is heartbreak, because heartbreak really defines you as a person.

“I always believe that everything happens for a reason. You don’t always know what that reason is in that moment, but you can get over heartbreak.”

For Zuri, the magic already exists. Will his mummy run fast? Yes of course. To him, she is the fastest mother in the world. He follows up before she has a chance to answer, “I’ll run fast,” he smirks.

His words are more than those of an adoring son. They represent the power he wields and the influence he wields. This is imitation of the best kind. Williams is a positive role model and she deserves success.

» This feature first appeared in the August issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here

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