Davis & Williams — Florida’s Young Prep Sprint Phenoms

Tamari Davis produced spectacular age-15 times of 11.13 & 22.48 last year. (BRYAN WAYNE)

The storyline writes itself.

Florida high school phenoms Briana Williams (Northeast, Oakland Park) and Tamari Davis (Oak Hall, Gainesville) could define high school sprinting for the next few seasons, then soon enough they might even define dashing at a world level.

They can grow into rivals, Williams competing for Jamaica, Davis for the United States, going head-to-head all over the globe. They gave a taste of that at last year’s State Meet when they traded wins in the short sprints, the then-soph Williams winning the 100 duel before the then-frosh Davis set an age-15 world record 22.48 in the 200. Earlier in the year, Williams had lowered the age-15 standard in the 100 to 11.13, a mark Davis tied in June.

All of which sets up a tantalizing future. As for ’19, well, keep dreaming about the future. “They’re going to circle each other for a little while,” says Williams’ coach, former world 200 champ Ato Boldon. “Hey, I like her running against Tamari. Win, lose or draw, she runs well against her. When she got her doors blown off [in the State 200], everyone wanted to have a funeral, but I thought, ‘Now she’ll listen.’ You can draw a straight line from that loss to her [gold medal in the World Juniors]. But I don’t know if they’ll be in the same race this year.”

Says Davis’’s coach, Gary Evans, “That’s not the priority, there’s bigger fish to fry. They both have bright futures, running against each other is not a big thing.”

There’s an unspoken “yet” at the end of that, but if the two don’t square off this year, there are two reasons. Davis has changed schools, now attending Class 1A Oak Hall, meaning she won’t see Williams, who runs in 3A.

More fundamentally, while the two are only a year apart (Davis will turn 16 in February, Williams 17 in March), at this point in their careers that’s a big year, and they both run for coaches more interested in their longterm futures than keeping them busy racing in spring and early summer.

Briana Williams won both World Junior (U20) dashes last year. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Williams, who became the youngest runner by far to sweep the short sprints at the World Juniors while setting a meet record 22.50 in the 200, has her eye on representing Jamaica at the World Championships in Doha. She’ll be doing that within Boldon’s goal of limiting her to 10 finals in each the 100 and 200 this calendar year.

As hard as this may be for some to believe, the junior will also be considering colleges to run for. Not only is she not ruling out competing in the NCAA, she seems to be leaning toward what Boldon calls the “semi-pro training ground.”

“I am really looking forward to this year, bigger things are going to happen,” Williams says. “My main goal is to make the team for Doha. Last year did give me a lot of confidence, I didn’t know I could run that fast. [Juniors] were just a couple of months ago, I’m still taking it in, but I feel like I can do better this year.”

And her rival? “Sophomore year is boring. I’m ready to be a junior, go on (college) visits,” says Davis, who at the moment is also planning on running at the NCAA level. Davis may run the US Trials, maybe one race in Europe, but she’s still in the Junior Olympics phase of her career. Just as the junior Williams is angling for Worlds, the sophomore Davis is looking more ahead to the 2020 Olympics when she’ll be a junior.

This year is going to be more low-key. “High school is very important,” Davis says. “We have Regionals, then State in May, that’s all very important to me. State is a great atmosphere. I do like summer also, I get to travel more. Both are good, but I like summer better.”

“I don’t want to see Tamari run super-, super-fast where there’s no room for improvement,” Evans says of the bigger goals for his star. “You have to leave room for the next level, college. If you burn a kid out, there’s nothing left. She wants to go under 22, under 11, if her feet take her there without going out of the normal training cycle, no problem. She’s still a child. I want to hear the name Tamari Davis 10 years from now. The biggest thing now is for her to earn a scholarship to college. We’re not looking at professional track & field; that’s so far from my mind, there’s no rush to go professional. I want her to enjoy her high school career.”

Boldon is also cautious of overworking Williams. “Last year she ran 11 100 finals and 10 200 finals, I don’t want her going over that,” he says. “Looking at the calendar, we have to leave open room for a Diamond League race, maybe a big invitational in the Caribbean. With a 16-year-old, there’s guarding against complacency because of all the hype surrounding her. She got a taste of the big time, but she still enjoys high school competition. She’s going to run quite few high school meets, but we’ll make sure they are very high-quality meets. We’re emphasizing quality races over quantity.”

There is, however, a goal both sprinters have in the longer term, taking aim at Allyson Felix’s HSR 22.11 from ’03. Boldon says Williams may seek out an altitude meet—he mentions Mexico City, where Felix set her mark—with an eye on taking it down.

“That High School Record could have gone last year,” Boldon says. “She had a lot of low-quality races—low-quality opposition—and she didn’t have a particularly good May. Allyson Felix’s record doesn’t become that big of a mountain.”

Both Williams and Davis figure to be scaling many mountains. They just may not be on the same one at the same time in 2019. □

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