Bernard Williams

Catching up with Bernard ‘Hollywood’ Williams

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Two-time Olympic sprint medalist Bernard “Hollywood” Williams is still going at age 36.

He clocked 10.51 seconds in the 100m at the Florida Relays on Friday. That’s well off his personal best, 9.94, set in 2001, but Williams has much more on his mind than fast times these days.

He’s best known for being part of the Olympic champion U.S. 4x100m relay team at Sydney 2000, and its scrutinized celebration, and as the silver medalist in the U.S. sweep of the 2004 Olympic 200m, a race known for what happened before the gun went off.

OlympicTalk recently caught up with Williams to reflect on his career and discuss his new ventures.

OlympicTalk: Why are you still running at age 36?

Williams: The thing about track and field is this — once you win medals and you get toward the end of your career, you have to make a certain transition. For me, I wasn’t finished running. I had a certain talent, but I had to find the means to support my family. That’s what got me into coaching.

I now use running to send a positive message. I put my races on YouTube to let my kids know you can do it as long as you want if you do it clean. It feels good to run now and not worry if your contract is going to get cut or if you don’t medal.

OlympicTalk: Who were your favorite competitors?

Williams: [2003 world 100m champion] Kim Collins and [2004 Olympian] John Capel. Kim Collins and I, we used to race against each other in junior college, and then we raced each other at the university level and then for 10 years on the pro circuit. He was a true champion. After our races, we would hang out in different countries, learn the language and the culture.

Capel [a 2004 Olympic teammate and University of Florida wide receiver] was tough. He came off that football field with that football strength.

OlympicTalk: Where do you keep your Olympic medals?

Williams: The 2000 gold is in a safe deposit box in Florida [where Williams went to college and formerly trained], and the 2004 silver is in a safe deposit box in Maryland [where Williams grew up and currently lives].

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OlympicTalk: What are you doing now, in addition to sprinting?

Williams: I started working as a sports performance coach at API Athletic Performance Inc., four years ago. I started my own business, Bernard Williams Pro Techniques. I teach kids how to run correctly, and I call colleges for them [his pupils have advanced to Clemson and Boston College, among other schools].

I also write songs and post them on YouTube.

OlympicTalk: You were a noted stand-up comic even during your Olympic years with the stage name “Hollywood.” Do you still do comedy?

Williams: Maybe seven times a month. I’ve been doing it since 2001. In the past, I would go to the track to work out, and then at night I would go to the comedy clubs. Sometimes I wasn’t funny. They booed. But from 2001-13 I’ve been a paid feature in New York, Florida and Hollywood, and I’ve been on television, a reality show with Chilli from TLC.

The comedy is something I like to do for the passion, not for the money necessarily. I like to make rooms of people laugh. It’s an adrenaline rush.

OlympicTalkUsain Bolt was just beginning his rise during your prime. What do you remember about a young Bolt?

Williams: I first saw him in 2003-2004. It’s weird because when I see him on TV now, he’s posing and doing things. I’m looking at him like that’s not what he used to do. He never did those things before the race. He would be nervous like anyone else, no posing, no facial expressions, no nothing for at least four years from 2004 to 2007.

He was humble. If I didn’t have a physio, he would allow me to use his physio even though we were competitors. His favorite words were “no worries.”

OlympicTalk: The 2000 Olympic 4x100m relay team (Jon DrummondBrian Lewis, Williams and Maurice Greene) was criticized for its victory celebration. How do you look at that incident now?

Williams: Fourteen years later, I can respond in a more articulate way with what was going on and how it happened. In 2000, when we took the victory lap, we didn’t know that we were out of line. I was a big fan of wrestling, WWF and The Rock, so when the crowd in Australia wanted more from us, I said OK. I posed here, took pictures, posed there, took more pictures. I didn’t realize it had been 10 minutes, and we’re still posing, giving the crowd what they want.

Once we got to the back, one of the journalists asked, “Do you feel you were out of line?” We replied, not really because we just won a gold medal for our country, and they [the journalists] didn’t like that.

During this time you have veterans, people who have sweat blood and tears for this country, who had opinions. Once you’ve got people like that making comments, you have to have an apology, telling them you were there showing emotion. We weren’t out there to disrespect anybody. We were proud.

source: Getty Images
Bernard Williams (center) and the U.S. 4x100m relay team continued their eye-catching celebration on the medal stand in Sydney in 2000. (Getty Images)

The very next year, 9/11 happened. Everybody was wearing American flags on their heads, just like I did the previous year. No problems. No interviews. No hate mail. I said, you know what, I’m going to continue to keep being me. I continued to pose and make people laugh my whole career.

If I could do it all over again, the celebration would have been done in a different way. It definitely wouldn’t be as long. I’m older now, more mature. I’m aware of who’s watching and people’s feelings and people who have died for this country.

OlympicTalk: In 2004, the headlines were about what happened before your Olympic race. You won silver in the 200m, but it was delayed by the Greek crowd protesting the suspension of 2000 Olympic 200m champion Kostas Kenteris for infamously missing a pre-Olympics drug test.

Williams: As soon as they started booing, the only thing I could think of was, OK, here we go again [memories of the backlash over the 2000 Olympic celebration].

It was weird. The whole crowd, we’re talking over 100,000 people. I knew it wasn’t directed toward me. It was directed toward other people, like, hey, you won’t let our guy run.

I had a smile on my face when they were booing. When we crossed the line 1-2-3 [a U.S. sweep with Shawn Crawford, Williams and Justin Gatlin], we shook hands, and it was cool. That victory lap, I really didn’t like it. I didn’t have fun, but I did it respectfully. I wanted to show people I could conduct myself in a more self-sufficient manner [than in 2000]. It was another form of trial and tribulation.

OlympicTalk: How do you look back on your era, seen as one of the dirtiest in the history of sport?

Williams: Even I had a mistake. I had a party drug, marijuana [and failed a drug test]. They said, OK, you’ve never tested positive for any banned substance before, and they gave me a warning [in August 2004, which allowed him to run in Athens]. That was a blessing. What I took from that was I cleaned up, made myself pure. I was always clean [from a PED standpoint], but I wasn’t pointing the finger at people who did steroids. I’m not a hater. I’m not clean as the board of health, either. Everybody makes mistakes.

I look back on that era as another era that was similar to the one before. I did my homework. I knew about Linford Christie [1992 Olympic 100m champion banned for drugs in late 1990s], Ben Johnson [stripped of gold at 1988 Olympics].

My era is considered bad because of the amount of stars it involved. Personally, I think the Ben Johnson steroid case was bigger than my era. It brought a lot of knowledge to the world about steroids. It kind of opened the world’s eyes. I don’t think any era was more dirty than any other era.

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Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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