Jamaica's Williams sisters carve out sibling rivalry in 100m hurdles
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Their global profile pales in comparison to Venus and Serena, but Jamaica's version of the Williams sisters is on track to carve out their own sibling rivalry on the international stage, starting at next month's IAAF World Championships in Athletics (WCA).
Shermaine and Danielle Williams, separated by age but glued by blood and competition, are on course to clash over the 100 metre hurdles in Moscow, Russia. Not even those closest to them risk picking which sister will do better from there.
"We don't have a pecking order," explained former national hurdler, Lennox Graham, who guides 20-year-old Danielle, a student at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) in the United States, and Shermaine, 23, a former JCSU star now running professionally.
"I coach each athlete to win and it's always been competitive (between Danielle and Shermaine). It's a challenge, but you have to make sure each knows she can win."
While Shermaine has compiled more distinguished athletic credentials so far, including silver medals at World Junior (2008) and World Youth (2007) championships, plus a semi-final berth at last summer's Olympics, Danielle is improving at a threatening pace. She beat her sister into third to win Jamaica's national trials last month in a personal record time of 12.69 seconds, faster than Shermaine's PR of 12.78 set in 2012.
Neither sister's best makes them medal favourites in Russia. That doesn't take the edge off their personal rivalry, which plays out at training sessions and the few occasions they've faced each other at meets. Yet potential conflicts linked to sibling competition have remained surprisingly uncomplicated so far.
"It's not actually tough at all," said Danielle on Wednesday while Shermaine was away in Europe and unavailable to be interviewed. "When you line up to race, (your sister) is just another competitor."
OUT THE DOOR
"Once they get on the track, the sister thing goes out the door," confirmed Graham. "I guess they'll wish each other the best before and after (the race), but they don't give any quarter."
It's one thing the sisters have in common.
"They're not like twins," explained Graham. "You won't see them walking around together."
Shermaine and Danielle have the same father, but different mothers.
According to Danielle, Shermaine spent her early years in Clarendon, while she lived in Kingston. Later, Shermaine moved in with Danielle, but they again separated before big sister went to JCSU.
"I wouldn't say that exactly," Danielle said when asked if they are "tight".
But they are "friends", she added, and get along well. They talk and exchange text messages. The Williams sisters also have a brother, Shane, a former athlete, who lives in the same North Carolina town where JCSU is located. Yet, they have separate interests and hang out with different people. Big sister is introverted.
"She is only aggressive when she's racing or getting ready for the most important race," explained Graham, who started coaching Shermaine when she was a 12-year-old attending Alpha Academy. "She pretty much wants to be in her own space."
Danielle is more outspoken. It's unlikely the sisters will be roommates in Moscow.
"I would rather not," she said laughing. "Because we have similar personalities and we don't talk a lot. So it would be a very quiet room."
But Danielle rarely backs down.
"She speaks her mind, to a fault," said Graham, who began coaching Danielle after she left Queens for JCSU.
Age differences have previously prevented Danielle and Shermaine from clashing regularly at meets. But the competition between them is notoriously fierce in training. Yet Graham said they trade tips and enjoy each other's success. There's no animosity.
"I've never seen any envy," said Graham. "Not even a bit of it."
The coach has heard Shermaine compliment Danielle as "the talented one" and the younger Williams concede that the 100 metre hurdles final at trials was "Shermaine's race to win". Yet, similar to the power shift which propelled Serena ahead of Venus in tennis, it appears the younger sibling is shifting gears.
"This is the first year Danielle has actually caught up to her sister," said Graham.
Her times in the 100 metre hurdles have dropped steadily. At the World Juniors in July 2010, she clocked 13.46. A year later, she slashed that to 13.32. In addition to her PR at trials, she also ran personal records in the 100 (11.24) and 200 (22.62) metres in May.
Shermaine, meanwhile, suffered a hamstring injury in April. She trained, but couldn't go at top speed. Early June return races prepped her for trials, where she clocked 12.93, well off her PR of 12.78. Danielle calls her "a very fierce competitor" and won't claim any edge.
"I know (Shermaine) has had a difficult season with injury," she said. "Maybe if she was healthy she would have been further ahead of me."
Shermaine was elated both did well at trials.
"She was very happy, for herself and her sister," said Graham. "For her sister, because Danielle got a personal best, and for herself to scrape on to the (Jamaica) team."
Shermaine, Graham said, is usually dominant during training. Now fit, she can gain on Danielle again.
While her sister was training at JCSU, Shermaine sharpened up on the pro circuit. She will compete this morning at the Diamond League meet in London, which begun yesterday.
Danielle has no competition before the WCA. Her last race was at the World University Games earlier this month. But, according Graham, she is not easily flustered.
"The little sister is good at just taking things in stride," he explained. "She doesn't' get ahead of herself."
Graham will coach Jamaican hurdlers at the WCA. Danielle looks forward to Jamaica's pre-championships camp, which should include trials runner-up Andrea Bliss, to get sharp for competition. She wants to lower her PR and make the WCA final. Her sister is thinking the same. The rivalry is on track, but that's always a given.