The Getaway Scene Williams, Johnson Got Out Of Blocks At Last Year's Relays

Posted: April 22, 1993

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The Penn Relays last year served as a coming-out party for two Jamaican teenagers - Claudine Williams and Warren Johnson.

Williams put on a dazzling show in leading the Vere Tech girls to victories in the 4 x 400 and 4 x 800-meter relays. She went from there to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Johnson ran his first 4 x 400 relay at Penn last year as well as anchoring the St. Jago boys to a surprise gold medal in the 4 x 100. He has been virtually unbeatable in his age group ever since.

Williams and Johnson, both 17, return to the Penn Relays this week as heavy favorites in the high school competition that begins today at Franklin Field.

"It is always a thrill to compete there," said Williams, who is making her third trip to the meet. "It is something you dream about . . . putting one of those (championship) watches on your wrist.

"There is so much at stake for the Jamaican athletes. We want to show our schools that the money they spent to send us (to Philadelphia) was not wasted. We want to bring back another plaque for the wall."

The Vere girls have brought back so many plaques from the Penn Relays that the walls of the school auditorium are filled. Vere has won the girls 4 x 400 each of the last seven years. It has won the 4 x 800 final each of the last five years.

The coed school, located 40 miles west of Kingston, has produced many outstanding sprinters, but the willowy, 5-11, 135-pound Williams has the potential to be the best.

She ran a 52.4 split in the 4 x 400 at the Penn Relays last year, the fastest ever recorded by a high school girl at Franklin Field. Her team's winning time was 3:39.1.

Earlier, Williams broke open the 4 x 800 final when she ran her split in 2:04.7. She turned over a huge lead to teammate Charmaine Howell, who coasted home an easy winner in 8:44.69.

Williams was the youngest member of the Jamaican team in Barcelona. She failed to qualify for the finals in the 400 meters and the 4 x 400, but she is expected to mature into a serious contender for 1996.

Grace Jackson, who won a silver medal for Jamaica in the 200 meters at the 1988 Summer Games, believes Williams will win a medal at the Atlanta Olympics.

"She has only scratched the surface of her potential," said Jackson, now retired from competition and working as a track analyst for Jamaican TV. "She is running good times now and, with her work habits, she can only get better.

"We talked in Barcelona and she was nervous, as any young person would be in their first Olympics. But it was a good experience for her. Next time, she will be ready to demonstrate her true talent."

Last week, Williams was named the outstanding female athlete at the Caribbean Games, held in Martinique. She finished first in both the 200 and 400 meters, competing against the best women sprinters from the islands.

For all her success, Williams remains delightfully down-to-earth. She lives on the Vere campus with the other female athletes. Forty-five young women are housed in two small barracks behind the track.

Williams's status as an Olympian does not earn her any special privileges, nor would she think to ask. She shares a room with seven other sprinters. Her Olympic sweats are tucked away in a duffel bag under her bunk.

"I don't consider myself a star, although other students sometimes treat me that way," Williams said. "I tell them not to do it. I say, 'Treat me as I am.'

"I know not to get big (headed). My coaches always say that once you are up here, it is very easy to fall. I will keep working, because I know I have much further to go."

Williams was discovered by one of the Vere coaches when she was competing in a youth track meet six years ago. At the time, she was living with relatives in a poor section of Kingston. Her parents had separated and left her alone.

Williams enrolled at Vere because she could live at the school and develop her track skills. In one year, working overtime with the coaches, she chopped almost 10 seconds off her time in the 400 meters.

"When Claudine finally puts it all together - her start, her stride, her strength - she will be devastating," said Constantine Haughton, one of the Vere coaches.

Warren Johnson is not at the world-class level yet, but judging by his performance at the Jamaican Boys Championships earlier this month, he is on his way.

Johnson ran four finals - the 100, the 200, the 4 x 100 and the 4 x 400 - in one night, with the first event and the last less than three hours apart. He won three events and finished second in the other.

It was the second-place finish in the 4 x 400, the final event of the meet, that clinched the team championship for St. Jago.

Johnson (5-9, 140 pounds) needed to bring his school in ahead of favored Calabar in the relay and, as the anchor man, he did just that.

"Pretty." That is Johnson's nickname and that is how he runs, with a long, fluid stride.

He has run the 100 meters in 10.3 seconds. He ran the 200 in 21.0 at the Boys Championships this month.

That's pretty, all right.

Pretty impressive.

Last year at the Penn Relays, Johnson ran the anchor for St. Jago in the 4 x 100 and won in 41.46 seconds. He surged past Jermaine Lewis, of Roosevelt High School (Greenbelt, Md.), in the stretch to win by two meters.

"Warren moved through the pack like Bob Hayes at the (1964) Olympics," said John Leiba, the St. Jago coach. "He pulled away as if the other runners missed a beat.

"That meet was where Warren really lifted himself. We all knew he could be good. At Penn, he proved he could rise to the challenge.

"He never had run a 400 before that," Leiba said. "But he was so smooth over 200 and so lightly built, I knew he could travel the 400 very well. We ran him (at Penn) and he took third. It was a great boost for his confidence.

"Now he steps on the track and, whatever the distance, he feels he can run it and win."

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