With 1:50.31, Cole Williams fastest 800-meter collegiate runner in nation

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Author: David Weightman

In the 800-meter at the Oxy Distance Carnival last weekend, Cole Williams (first-year) sat comfortably in the middle of the pack for a lap and a half. Danny Reid (unattached) took off to the front by a commanding margin. As he rounded the last corner, Reid snuck a glance over his shoulder as Williams started to make his move. Reid frantically sped up, but by then it was too late; Williams hit top gear and glided past Reid. Over the last 80 meters, Williams burst ahead of the pack to a clear victory at 1:50.31. Williams had run the fastest half mile of any college athlete this season.

Williams doesn’t look like a dominant athlete. He is six foot two and lanky with short, unruly dirty blonde hair.Though his friends rave about his sense of humor, Williams has a shy, humble outlook on track and field. “Cole is very humble. He constantly underestimates himself,” Coach Rob Bartlett said. Williams’ modesty belies a fierce competitive spirit. 

“Despite being the fastest 800 runner in the conference, he’s always looking to improve, and it shows during our workouts,” teammate Will Moseley (senior) said.

Williams’ performance at the Distance Carnival was just the most recent in an impressive rookie campaign. His calling card is his versatility. Williams first broke out at the Division III Cross Country National Championships, where he finished as the fifth fastest freshman in D3. Running the 1000-meter at his first meet this spring, Williams came less than a second behind Charles Jock (senior) of UC Irvine, who ran the third fastest 800-meter time in America last year. The next weekend, as part of a distance medley at the Rossi Relays at Claremont, Williams outpaced a runner from USC in the 1200-meter.

At the first SCIAC meet of the season, Williams anchored the 4×400-meter relay team to an impressive finish that could set them up as contenders not just for SCIAC but for all of D3. Few runners at any level have the ability to compete in races as diverse as the 400-meter, 800-meter, 1500-meter and cross country. Williams not only runs all of these, but he also excels. “It’s about just being patient and doing all the little things right,” Williams said.

Even before he came to Occidental, Williams started making a name for himself. He ran the fifth best 800-meter time in California and the 13th best time in the country his senior year of high school. His best high school time could have won SCIAC last year with a 1:50.6. Despite this success, he flew under the radar of most Division I programs. Between his junior and senior years of high school, Williams knocked four seconds off of his 800 time, the difference between good and great. Though it may have stunned opposing coaches and previously uninterested college scouts, Williams was not surprised. “I knew I could do it. I expected it. I had another year of training, and a lot of experience and confidence comes with that,” Williams said.

Williams brushed off late interest from UC Davis and arrived at Occidental to run both track and cross-country. He ran for the cross-country team that won the Division III West Region in the fall, and the season shaped a team that enjoys each other’s company. “We had a lot of fun in the fall, and that was a big reason behind our success,” Williams said.

Along with the team’s camaraderie, the coaching has contributed to Williams’ experience so far. “Rob [Bartlett] and [sprints coach] Tyler [Yamaguchi] have been really good. Rob knows what’s important. He knows what to say and what not to say. I trust him and what he’s doing,” he said.

Moseley also stressed the importance of the coaches to Williams’ development. “There’s no doubt that the coaching here has played an integral role in honing his racing tactics to the point where he’s running smart, technical races,” Moseley said.

This spring, Williams has teamed up with SCIAC’s defending 800-meter champion Moseley to set the pace in both the 800-meter and 4×400-meter relay. “Will’s great. He’s really kind, really hard working. Just talking to him you can tell he has that fire, that he really wants it,” Williams said. Moseley in turn has been able to offer plenty to the younger Williams. “Since I’ve been racing the 800-meter and 4×400-meter for four years, I know the field of competitors pretty well so I’ve been able to give him tactical race advice based on how he matches up with some of the other top athletes,” Moseley said.

He believes in Williams’ potential as well. “I have no doubt that Cole is going to be extremely successful during his career at Occidental. He’s got the raw physical talent combined with a great mental attitude towards running,” Moseley said. Williams next competes at the Cal-Nevada Championships at Claremont this weekend.

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