Canadian rugby ace Charity Williams competed at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, when sevens made its first appearance at an Olympic event, before winning a historic bronze two years later in Rio. Here, the 21-year-old reflects on her journey from YOG athlete to teenage Olympic medallist.
‘A sense of security’
Charity Williams got her first taste of an Olympic competition at the YOG Nanjing 2014 and has described the “amazing experience” of that event as crucial in helping her to perform on the biggest stage in Rio, as rugby sevens appeared for the first time.
“It was so cool to have all these young athletes represent their country in Nanjing,” she recalls. “To see myself and one of my teammates, Hannah Darling, then make our mark at Rio 2016 was an incredible feeling.”
Williams also fondly recalls the treatment athletes received in the Youth Olympic Village, and believes that her off-the-field experiences in Nanjing helped her prepare better – and feel at home more quickly – two years later in Rio.
“The Village and the environment was the same, and the facilities were excellent. It’s been a great transition, and I’m really glad we got to experience the YOG before going to Rio – it gave us that sense of security,” she reveals. “You understand what’s going on, you know the pressure is there, and learn how to handle it better.”
Williams can now proudly wear an Olympic bronze medal around her neck – the first-ever rugby sevens medal to be awarded at the Olympic Games – but still treasures the silver one that she won with her Canadian team-mates at the YOG.
“Nanjing gave me the foundational skills that I needed to be an Olympian,” she adds. “It’s nice to have an event to look back on where you can see how you’ve progressed and made the transition to the Olympic Games. It’s so great for young athletes and so important for us to excel in this world.”
Tears of joy
Despite Canada’s success in Nanjing, Williams wasn’t sure she was going to make the senior team for Rio – so when that call came in, she was overwhelmed with emotion. “It was an unbelievable feeling. I didn’t think I was going to make the team, so it came as a bit of a shock to me,” she explains.
“I was confident in my own ability, but you never really know what’s going to happen. When my coach told me I was selected, I cried and cried and cried. Then it hit me: I’m going to be an Olympian!”
Williams’ time in Rio culminated with a 33-10 victory over Great Britain in the bronze medal match – and having made it through a few challenging matches leading up to that game, there were more tears of joy at the full-time whistle.
“We had a lot of games at Rio that went right down to the wire, where we didn’t want the match to end,” says Williams. “But against Great Britain, we had a good lead. We were comfortable, but it was so nice to finally hear the whistle. We could breathe again!
“We all jumped for joy, hugged, cried – it was an amazing moment. I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I wouldn’t want to have been there with any other girls.”
Still only 21 years old, Williams fondly remembers watching the Olympic Games for the first time aged five and has no trouble recalling the moment she imagined herself standing on the podium.
“The day I decided I wanted to be an Olympian, I was watching a gold medallist in the gymnastics, Shawn Johnson for the USA. She was just 16 at the time and was on the podium collecting her gold medal. I said: ‘I want to be where she is’. And now I’m here!”
The dream doesn’t end there. Having become an Olympian, Williams knows that maintaining her focus could be the most important thing of all in her career. “My goal has always been to be an Olympian, but there’s more to it than that,” she says. “There’s always something else you can be, somewhere else you can go.”
“My next goal is to be a gold medallist, and, as long as my body allows it, I have a lot of years of play ahead of me. I’m looking forward to continuing my training and reaching my goals again, and again, and again.”
Young athletes competing at Buenos Aires 2018, then – particularly in competitions like sport climbing and karate, that will then debut at Tokyo 2020 – need only to look to Williams for inspiration as they embark upon their own Olympic journeys.
For information and resources about the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, visit Athlete365’s ‘Get Ready Pack’ here