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SPRINTER HAS THE WHEELS : TENACITY PAYS OFF FOR LATE BLOOMER.

Byline: Michael Rosenthal Daily News Staff Writer

Jeff Williams has this thing for speed.

When he gets the chance, the L.A. native hops into his souped-up Nissan and races it around the public, quarter-mile track at Terminal Island. He says he regularly reaches speeds approaching 150 mph.

It's at around 25 mph that he's beginning to make a name for himself, though.

Williams, who lives in San Fernando, will represent the United States in the 200-meter dash and likely the 400-meter relay in his first Olympics, which, as much as any other athlete participating in the Games, is a testament to perseverance.

Williams, a 1982 graduate of Washington High in L.A., was a football player at Prairie View A&M in Texas when a coach aware of his speed asked him to give track and field a try.

It would be three years before he saw significant success, however, and six more before he could be classified as an ``elite sprinter.''

From 1989 - not long after he began training with former Olympic sprinter Barbara Edmonson - to last year, Williams had some success but was just another in a substantial pack of capable sprinters. He was among the nation's 10, 15 competitors in both the 100 and 200 during those years.

His most significant accomplishment at that time was a sixth-place finish in the 100 in the 1992 Olympic Trials, which made him an alternate on the 400 relay team. However, he didn't run because the team was disqualified in the first round of qualifying.

And then, last year, he blossomed.

At the relatively advanced age of 29, he ran personal bests of 10.19 in the 100 and 20.18 in the 200. He capped his splendid year by placing third in the 200 in the world championships.

``I think persistence plays a little part in it,'' Williams said. ``Luck is a remnant of desire. Just hanging in there. . . . I haven't been able to punch through. It's not that I couldn't run world-class times because I've shown that time and time again.''

Williams showed it again in the weeks leading up to the Olympic Trials, running a personal-best and blazing-fast 19.87 in the 200. Clearly, he was now among the world's great sprinters, particularly in that event.

And come the trials, he didn't disappoint.

In the 200, he couldn't catch the mighty Michael Johnson but beat everyone else, including defending Olympic champion Mike Marsh, to finish second and qualify for his only individual event. He finished fourth in the 100 and is expected to be a part of the 400 relay, an event in which the United States figures to win the gold medal.

He's come a long way from Prairie View A&M. And, even though he'll be 31 in December, he plans to keep right on going.

``I haven't reached my full potential yet,'' he said, ``so I'm still looking to see just how far, just how fast I can go.

``You want to get out there and do it. Why not?''

PROFILE Age: 30.

Schools: Washington High, Prarie View A&M (Texas)

Of interest: Williams' first love was football. He played at Prairie View A&M in Texas, where he discovered track and field as a sophomore.

When to Watch 200 meters: July 31, first round 7:45 a.m., second round 3:30 p.m.; Aug. 1, semifinals 3:10 p.m., finals 5 p.m.

400 relay: Aug. 2, first round 6:15 a.m., semifinals 4:30 p.m.; Aug. 3, finals 4:20 p.m.

THROUGH THE YEARS 1986: Williams finishes sixth in a heat of the 200 at the NCAA meet, failing to qualify for the final. It would be his best NCAA finish.

1988: Begins training with Barbara Edmonson, who won the silver medal in the 100-meter dash in the 1968 Olympics.

1989: Finishes seventh in the 200 in the U.S. championships, the capper on the first in a series of solid, but unspectacular seasons.

1995: Has his breakthrough season, finishing third in the 200 in the world championships in a then-personal record of 20.18.

1996: Runs a blazing 19.87 to emerge as a gold-medal candidate and qualifies second, behind Michael Johnson, in the Olympic trials in 20.03.

200 METERS Perhaps the most famous - or infamous - winner of the Olympic 200-meter dash is America's Tommie Smith. His Black Power salute on the victory stand in 1968 in Mexico City - along with bronze medalist and U.S. teammate John Carlos - remains one of the most enduring images of the Olympic Games.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, 4 Boxes

Photo: (1) A latecomer to the sport, Jeff Willi ams, at age 30, finished second only to gold-medal favorite Michael Johnson in the 200 meters at the Olympic Trials.

Associated Press

(2) Jeff Williams

Box: (1) PROFILE (see text)

(2) When to Watch (see text)

(3) THROUGH THE YEARS (see text)

(4) 200 METERS (see text)
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 16, 1996
Words:828
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