Williams finishes as top U.S. qualifier

Updated: August 21, 2004, 11:37 AM ET
By Sherry Skalko | ESPN.com

Lauryn Williams scanned the stands for her father while preparing for her second-round heat in the women's 100 meters at Olympic Stadium. David Williams was undergoing dialysis treatment earlier in the day, but she expected to see him before entering the blocks Friday night.

Lauryn won her heat in 11.03 seconds to finish as the top United States qualifier and second only to Belarussian Yuliya Nesterenko's 10.99. If only her dad could have seen it.

As it turned out, David Williams did not finish his every-other-day treatment in time, but he's expected to attend the semifinal heat on Saturday.

"To come all the way to Greece ... it was very important for my dad to be here. I'm running for him," Lauryn Williams said.

There was no telling if her father watched the race on television. Had that been the case, he would have seen his 5-foot-3, 20-year-old dynamo of a daughter shoot out of the starting blocks and power past the competition in the closest heat of the night. Her competition included Bulgaria's Ivet Lolova, who ran a 10.77 at a meet at home in June and eclipsed Williams' NCAA championship time of 10.97 seconds for the fastest time this season.

"I think my start made that race. I'm glad I put it together a little bit better than I did in the prelims," Williams said. "I'm excited for [Saturday]. I think if I have a start like that again, God only knows the limit."

Williams, whose second-round time was .13 of a second better than her first, will join U.S. teammates LaTasha Colander (11.20) and Gail Devers (11.31) in the semifinals.

"Lauryn looked really good," said Debbie Ferguson, a University of Georgia graduate and a member of the Bahamas' "Golden Girls" 4x100 relay team at the 2000 Sydney Games. "I could see her out of my left peripheral vision. When Lauryn gets out like that, you know it's going to be a good race."

She wants to treat her father to just that. He didn't come all the way to Greece not to see her run.

Williams was a young girl living with her mother in Detroit when her father was diagnosed with leukemia. She alternated time between her divorced parents' homes until the summer before seventh grade, when she decided to move to Pittsburgh to be with her father. The leukemia led to kidney problems. Now he's on dialysis awaiting a transplant.

Though the cost of medical treatments sapped her father's savings, he still found a way to send Lauryn to all of her meets when she was younger. But when she earned her ticket to Athens with a third-place finish at the Olympic trials by beating Marion Jones and Devers, buying a ticket for her father was too much of a financial hardship.

Williams turned pro soon after the trials, forgoing her final year at the University of Miami, where she is 15 credits shy of a degree in finance. But the cash won't start flowing in until after the Olympics.

So David Williams opened the "Williams Family Greece Fund" at a local bank. It had only $500 in it the morning of Aug. 1. Later that afternoon, it had the $10,000 the Williams needed. Tim Wiebe, a Pittsburgh-area resident and owner of a rehabilitation equipment company, had read about the Williamses' plight in a newspaper article and donated the money for airfare, hotel and costs for David Williams' dialysis.

Lauryn Williams could make Wiebe's donation even more meaningful Saturday. Despite being nervous before each race so far, Williams said she's gaining more and more confidence. She knows that each round the competition gets tougher and that finishing second will only make Lolova more determined. Couple that awareness with a good night's sleep (she awoke every hour on the hour Thursday night and was tired for Friday's race) and a little time with her family on Saturday to keep her mind off the race, and Williams said she'll be ready.

"I'm excited," she said. "I'm nervous but very excited, and I think that only God knows what's going to happen tomorrow.

"Any medal will be good, but a gold medal will be great."

It will be even better if her father is there to see it.

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