Gymnast Toni-Ann Williams makes historic Olympic Games qualification
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil — University of California, Berkeley (Cal) sophomore Toni-Ann Williams will be the first female gymnast to represent Jamaica and Cal at the Olympic Games, after she qualified for the 2016 Games with a strong showing at the Rio Olympic Test Event on Sunday.
Williams, who has already created history as the first gymnast to represent Jamaica at the senior international level, has moved one step further, having now realised her dream of representing her parents’ homeland at the Olympic Games scheduled for August.
She finished 38th overall, with a 52.931 total in the all-round, which also placed her in 16th position as an individual not competing with a full team. Her highest score of the day came on vault where she scored 14.066, which ranked 24th among her competitors.
The 20-year-old was also ranked in the top 35 on beam, finishing 29th with a tally of 13.666, and 32nd on floor with 13.366. She tallied an 11.833 on bars.
Justin Howell, head coach of Jamaica and Cal, was elated by the prospects of Williams being the first Cal women’s gymnastics student-athlete to qualify for the Olympics in the history of the programme.
“What an amazing accomplishment! It’s a little surreal at the moment, but we believed without a doubt that she would qualify,” Howell told Cal Athletics.
The gymnast, born in Randallstown, Maryland has been training concurrently for both international qualification and the NCAA gymnastics season.
She missed the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships to compete at the Rio Olympic Test Event, which represented her only chance to qualify.
However, she still enjoyed a standout sophomore season, picking up a pair of All-Pac-12 First Team honours, her second West Region Gymnast of the Year award and her fourth career Regular Season All-America title.
“The rigour of Cal prepares our student-athletes for excellence. It becomes their habit and their way of the life [and] this is just another shining example. This is proof that gymnastics at the college level and gymnastics at the international level can go hand in hand,” Howell noted.
Howell will be joining Williams in Rio as head coach of the Jamaican National Team.
Williams started her journey in a tiny, out-of-the-way gym hidden among the hills on the outskirts of Cal’s campus, where she enthusiastically drags a humongous mat to the balance beam area before getting to work. She also carried her own vault springboard to run through several repetitions, as she worked on enhancing her high-flying flip and acrobatic twist.
“I never realised how big that was. I never allowed myself to think that highly of myself before, but I do recognise it now. It helps me stay humble and keeps me going through this crazy journey,” Williams said last year, after discovering that she was the first gymnast to compete for Jamaica.