The Athlete: Sean Williams

3 time Olympic hopeful Sean Williams sheds life on the esoteric world of professional running outside of the Olympic games in part 2 of the Sean Williams feature...

At the highest level you’re running for every tenth and hundredth of a second. Everything matters.
— Sean Williams

How does the professional world of running work outside of the Olympics?

There’s not a lot of money in track. Only the people that are top 10 in the world make good money. All of the Olympic hopefuls are working 20+ hours and training just to make ends meet. I had a private sponsorship with Spain which helped with rent and stuff.

Where are the events held?

So a lot of colleges put on invitationals, and it's how they make money for their collegiate running programs. These meets put out a time standard. It doesn’t matter if you're in high school, a sponsored pro or collegiate athlete, if you meet the time standard you can run. I would sign up for these events as an unattached athlete and run for Spain. If you run fast times at collegiate invitationals you can get into better meets and go overseas to Europe, most of the money is over there. But for really large meets you need to have an agent to get you in.

Is there a top league or division like in professional golf or tennis?

The Diamond League is the gold standard, it’s the league Usain Bolt runs in. The meets are all over the world. England, France, you name It. You can only run in Diamond League events if you are top 20 in the world and the prize money is usually around $50,000 an event. I've never personally ran in a meet that big, but I have always run top 100 times in the world.

What has been the greatest achievement in your professional running career?

Sean competing for the USA racing in osaka Japan in the 4x400 relay

Sean competing for the USA racing in osaka Japan in the 4x400 relay

Running a top 10-world time in the 400 meter hurdles. I’ve ran a lot of races in my life, but I can remember everything about that race. I worked so hard that year and sacrificed everything. My coach had kept me healthy and I was strong. I remember flying off the block and hitting the first hurdle… BOOM. I was flying. I remember thinking to myself “whoa, I’m going so fast” but my body wouldn’t slow down. I obliterated everyone in the first 100 meters.

After the race I went into the stand and my coach and I stared at each other like “what just happened!” We were blown away, but there was so much room for improvement. I was a stride and a half away from the Olympics standard. I could have qualified. I think I crave being at that level again, I crave feeling that fast again. My last 2 seasons haven't been great, but I’m coming back from an injury and starting back up again soon.

Do you feel like you are always striving for the perfect race?

Ya, as an athlete. If you ask Michael Johnson or Usain bolt. They’ll always find something wrong with their runs. When Michael Johnson broke the 200 meter record his start was terrible. He would probably say he could go faster. At the highest level you're running for every tenth and hundredth of a second. Everything matters.

What drives you to compete?

The biggest thing that drives track and field athletes is that it’s you vs. the entire world. It’s all about how you can one up the competition. My coach would say to me in practice “we’re getting this workout in but what are your competitors doing?” That makes me want to go harder. I want to feel like I worked the hardest out of every athlete in my event when I leave the track every day. So when I get to the block, I have confidence, and know I’m going to obliterate the field because I put in the work.

sean williams Part 3: Training Will explore sean's physical and mental strategies for success. Check back Tuesday August 29th for the final installment. Want to take a 3 time olympic hopeful's class? book your next class with sean here!