Aug. 5, 2004
USC alum Tonique Williams-Darling, who has the world’s top time in the 400m this year, is getting set to compete in her second Olympics and will represent her home country of the Bahamas.
She is in Zurich, Switzerland at the moment, preparing to run in a meet on Friday. After hopping out of an ice bath in her hotel room, she sat down with USCSPORTS.COM to talk about her training, her being the world leader in the 400m and the time she spent at USC.
USC: What events will you run in Athens? What is your personal best?
TWD: I will run only the 400m. My personal best is 49.15, I ran that two weeks ago in Paris. The Bahamas national record was 49.28 and I broke it at 49.25 first and then ran the 49.15 to break it again. The record belonged to Pauline Davis-Thompson. She coaches Monique Hennegan to name just one outstanding runner.
USC: You competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. How would you compare your fitness level from then to now?
TWD: Compared to how I am now I would say I wasn’t very fit in Sydney. I didn’t make it out of the first round. I am so much stronger mentally and so much fitter. To compare the two, I would say I wasn’t even in the ball game in Sydney. I didn’t make it out of the first round. Hopefully this year I can go all the way.
USC: What is a highlight thus far this year?
TWD: My highlight so far, it’s hard to really pinpoint any race. Every race has been a PR, a national record, world leading time, defeating Anna Guevera (Mexico) after she had such a long reign. I won a bronze medal at the 2004 World Indoor Championships. The whole year so far has really been the highlight of my career.
USC: What goals have you set for yourself in Athens? Do you have any time in mind that you would like to run?
TWD: I haven’t really set any goals yet for Athens. I really haven’t even thought about it yet. It’s in the back of my mind. Everything I do is right now is with Athens in the back of my mind. I don’t care what time it takes to win the medal. I am going to take each race one at a time and not worry about the next race including the Olympics. I will let Athens take place when it does. I think every race I run helps me get ready but I am not setting any time goals because is relative.
USC: Who will be the woman to beat in Athens? When you were at USC did you train with Monique Hennegan, a former volunteer coach, who won the US Trials and is now training in Atlanta?
TWD: In which event (laughter). Like I said, when you go into each race, even with Friday in Zurich. We have some 49’s this year – at least five people. The Russians always come out running, Anna will come out running. The field is a bit more level now that Anna has lost. She has been beaten so people are thinking they can win. There are some names that will be in the finals but right now it’s anyone’s race.
Yes, I did train with Monique. We had at least one year together, maybe more. It wasn’t too much because at that time he trained us a bit different. She was training more as a 400m, 800m runner and I was training as a 200m, 400m runner, but we did have some work-outs the same.
USC: What experience do you remember the most about the 2000 Sydney Olympics?
TWD: I think the most memorable moment was Cathy Freeman’s win in the 400m for Australia. She was at home and there was so much built into her winning and so much hype that when she won it, it made it the perfect thing for the Olympics. She had on that cat-suit and she lit the torch and she was just perfect. That moment has come back to me about 100 times this season. I’ve thought about it, it’s really the only race I remember.
USC: Last year you were fourth at the World Championships in Paris. Did you feel that was your breakout year internationally or has this year been more of your breakout year?
TWD: Last year certainly. I went to London and I got second behind Anna Guevera. And then in Zurich I ran 50.24 and I had a bunch of PR’s. I ran my first Golden League races. Last year I won all my rounds at the World Championships. Before I was just fighting to get out of the first round and there I was winning my rounds. I had the best lane going into the finals and I knew I could do something. I can’t say I was happy with fourth at Worlds but when you compare what I was doing before to what I did before, you have to take the good with the bad. There was nothing to hold my head down about. Of course you always want a medal, but after being out of the game and be a contender in the final, you have to appreciate that.
USC: You graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1999. What are some of your fondest memories about USC? Do you still keep in touch with any of your former teammates or sorority sisters?
TWD: I was a member of the AKA sorority. One of my goals was to come to college and be an AKA. I was at Univ. of Georgia first and when I came to USC I was able to pledge, hang out a lot more and run track. Having Coach Frye really helped because he was really supportive of me from the beginning. He saw me as a leader and I enjoyed being a leader and a role model. Shevon Stoddart came up to me in Paris and said “I just had to meet you because they still talk about you at USC.” I know I must have been a positive role model if they are still talking about me. I am glad they see me that way because I always tried to encourage everyone. I am really proud of what they have done and am glad they feel the same way about me.
We have a really good email communication system going. We always want to go back for Homecoming and that is when we communicate the most. I still communicate with Charmaine Howell quite a bit – she was my roommate there. I also see Coach Frye, Allen Johnson, Melissa Morrison because they are on the professional circuit. There are so many fond memories of the school.
USC: You won the 400m at the SEC Championships in 1998. Correct me if I am wrong, but you were deathly ill. That was the school’s first 400m title. There have been a number of great runners in that event since you graduated, including 2000 Olympian Miki Barber, 2003 World Champion Lisa Barber, 2003 World Champion Demetria Washington and now 2004 Olympian Lashinda Demus. Do you feel you set the standard they competed under?
TWD: In 1998 I was doing three things: running track, pledging and going to school. I think I was just a bit out of it because I was so busy. I was running rounds and was really weak but I knew it was my last year. I had been second every single SEC meet in the 400m and I was like ‘If I do not win this race I won’t be able to say I won the SEC meet.’ Coach Frye was upset with me because he knew I was sick because I was I was tired from everything. What an SEC meet!
I think when you have a horse in your stable that is a good recruiting tool. Having me there for two years was a good recruiting base. Coach Frye is an awesome recruiter anyway. He brought in the twins with Demetria and since then its been like a 400m program. I think it helped, I don’t think it hurt.
USC: You train now in Norfolk, Va., with Steve Riddick. How did you end up there?
TWD: I had been talking to Steve off and on since 2000. He coaches a number of good runners and had really close ties with Bahamian athletes. I decided in 2002 to pack it up and try it. So many programs weren’t working for me. He really knows what he is doing as a coach and it just paid off.
USC: You are now Tonique Williams-Darling. Any reason you didn’t just become Tonique Darling?
TWD: I thought at the time that people knew me as Tonique Williams and I wanted to keep that name. I got married last year in April and I thought it would be easier to keep it that way. In Rome it started changing everywhere to Williams-Darling but it’s ok. I think everyone knows who Tonique Williams is and who Tonique Williams-Darling is. With security you probably have to be the person you are on your ID and so that’s okay too.
USC: Picture this – you win the gold medal in Athens. Then USC invites you back and honors you at halftime of a football game? Is that something you would be interested in.
TWD: Wow! That would feel good. I haven’t even thought about the gold medal but so many situations have been thrown in front of me already, like going back to the Bahamas and I would really appreciate that kind of stuff. It’s not often that people get to celebrate one of their own so that would be nice. I would be so honored. They gave so much to me.
Well, I think we’ve pretty much covered everything! I am excited and thanks.
USC: Thanks Tonique. We look forward to checking back with you during the Games.