Olympic bronze medalist Susan Williams will be joined by both fellow medalists in tomorrow's triathlon.

Bronze medalist
more relaxed

This time around, a lot less is
at stake for Williams in
the Honolulu triathlon

Sometimes Susan Williams still wonders if it all really happened.

When she arrived in Honolulu about a year ago, Williams wasn't considered a favorite to earn a spot on the U.S. triathlon team, much less reach the podium in Athens.


What: JAL Honolulu International Triathlon Union World Cup

When: Tomorrow -- women's race starts at 9 a.m., men to follow at about 11:30 a.m.

Course: 1-mile swim at Queen's Beach, 25-mile bike ride (five laps) around Diamond Head, 6-mile run (four laps) through Waikiki finishing at Kapiolani Park

Notes: The JAL Honolulu Triathlon, an age-group race, will be held Sunday starting at 6 a.m. ... Defending women's champion Barb Lindquist and the three women's medalists from last summer's Olympic Games -- Kate Allen (Austria), Loretta Harrop (Australia) and Susan Williams (USA) are scheduled to participate. ... Olympic silver medalist Bevan Docherty headlines the men's field along with Hunter Kemper, the top U.S. finisher at the Olympics.

She returns for tomorrow's JAL Honolulu International Triathlon Union World Cup as an Olympic medalist after surprising many in the sport -- including herself -- by not only qualifying for the team, but winning the bronze in Greece.

"It's been kind of a whirlwind," Williams said, recalling the events of the last 12 months. "Sometimes I think back on it and it just seems like a dream.

"It was a dream I had since I was a little kid to go to the Olympics. So to actually go and get a medal still seems a little surreal to me."

Williams, who lived on Oahu for three years and attended Aliamanu Elementary and Intermediate School in the early 1980s, became the first American to win an Olympic medal in the triathlon last year and was named USA Triathlon's Female Athlete of the Year.

She's back in Hawaii to compete in the ITU World Cup event featuring close to 150 elite-level triathletes, including the three women's medalists from Athens.

Tomorrow's race is the first of 14 World Cup events this year and the only one held in the U.S. The course consists of a 1-mile swim off Queen's Beach, a 25-mile bike ride around Diamond Head, and a 6-mile run through Waikiki ending in Kapiolani Park.

The women's competition starts at 9 a.m., with the men's race to follow at about 11:30. The JAL Honolulu Triathlon for age-group competitors will be held Sunday starting at 6 a.m.

Williams' Olympic experience came four years later than expected. She was seemingly on her way to Australia for the 2000 Games, but found out she was pregnant prior to the U.S. Olympic Trials. Williams and her husband, Tim, welcomed a daughter in early 2001 and named her Sydney.

While she missed out on the 2000 Games, Williams is thankful for the way events unfolded for her family and athletic career.

"It actually turned out to be a blessing," Williams said. "Now I have a beautiful daughter and the Olympics.

"I just think in the four years since 2000, I'd gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster. I think had I gone to the Olympics in 2000 there would have been a very small chance I would have gotten a medal. ... Plus the course in Athens was more suited to my strengths as well."

Williams, who turned pro in 1997, began her run to Athens with a third-place finish in last year's inaugural Honolulu Triathlon. Barb Lindquist, currently the world's top-ranked female triathlete, earned a berth on the Olympic team by winning the race.

Williams eventually clinched a spot on the team at the Olympic Trials, her final opportunity to make the squad.

"It was my main goal to get there," she said. "Before I made it I said, 'I just want to get there and if I'm there it won't really matter -- I'll be a part of it representing the country.'

"Once I made the team it's like, 'I'm going, I might as well just go for it and see what I can do.' "

Williams set the tone for her effort in Athens with "the best swim I've had in a triathlon." She then crashed on her first lap of the bike ride, but recovered to stay in contention. After a strong push in the run, the realization that a medal was within reach hit as she approached the finish line.

"It was hard to believe I was actually getting a medal in the Olympics," she recalled.

Reaching lofty goals isn't new for Williams. She earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Alabama and a master's degree from Colorado. She later worked as an engineer for Lockheed Martin before deciding to focus on the Olympics.

She's now involved in coaching other athletes while keeping up a schedule of elite events and settling back into family life in Colorado.

Williams concedes her conditioning for tomorrow's race isn't what it was last year when a spot on the Olympic team was at stake. But she knows the adrenaline will kick in again as the start approaches.

"It'll be a little different," she said. "I'm going to go in with a lot more relaxed attitude, because I'm not there to try to make the Olympic team but to race hard and have fun."

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