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].
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.
OlympicTalk: Usain 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 Drummond, Brian 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.
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.