“I’m gonna enjoy this moment,” said a relaxed Jesse Williams of the USA as he came off the track after more than an hour giving television interviews before he arrived at the mixed zone to meet the written press.
Far from being talked out, the 27-year-old seemed more than happy to continue answering questions. It was, after all, the biggest moment of his career.
“Mission fulfilled is a fair description,” he said. “I came into this year wanting to say I went to the World championships and won it and that is what I have done. I’m very happy.”
During most of the competition, Williams had spent his time with his back to the other jumpers. Was this something he always did? “Well, the few times I’ve done it I seemed to win,” he explained.
“There were a lot of good guys out there and I wanted to be sure I wasn’t influenced by what they were doing and focus on myself. Maybe I’ll do it more in future.”
The one exception to facing the other way was when gold came down to the battle between Russian Aleksey Dmitrik and himself with the bar at 2.37m. This was where gold could be won or lost. In this case, he was definitely watching: “Since I was jumping right after him, I had to watch. There was no alternative."
With Dmitrik knocking the bar off with all three attempts, gold went to the American because of his clean card. Williams had cleared all his heights up to and including 2.35m at the first attempt compared to the Russian’s three failures at each height from 2.29m upwards.
Was clearing a height at the first attempt a policy? “It is easy to fail mentally in the high jump so it is important to focus on every jump. You have to clear the bar on the first attempt. I had been jumping well all year and I knew I had it in me to do well here.”
In the final crucial stages of the competition, Williams seemed irritated by a medal ceremony that interrupted an attempt to clear 2.37m: “It was not easy to have to wait a while, but you have to learn to cope with these things. I shall definitely be taking it into account next year for the Olympics.”
Williams had seven competitions outdoors this year coming into Daegu and in only one of those did he clear less than 2.30m. That occasion was at the Bislett Games when he managed no higher than fifth place with 2.24m, though the poor weather conditions that night were not optimum for high jumping.
The remaining six competitions varied between 2.32m and his personal best which came at the National championships in Eugene when he cleared 2.37m, the world lead for 2011.
If he knew he had it in him to do well, that opinion did not appear to be shared by some of the US media. Williams referred to the fact that he had been written off as not being “a gamer, whatever that means”. In other words, he did not have the mental strength to do well.
It clearly rankled Williams which probably adds to his enjoyment at having won. “I knew if I could stick it all together that I could win and prove everybody wrong.
“I have made other World championship teams and not done so well and a lot of people gave up on me and that definitely motivates me.”
In the 2005 and 2007 World championships, Williams failed to get beyond the qualifying round and in the Beijing Olympics he was equal 19th with 2.25m. His highest finish at the World indoors came in 2010 when he finished in fifth position.
Williams comes from what were described as humble beginnings in Raleigh, North Carolina. “My father was a pastor in a Baptist church and we did not have a great deal of money. But my parents basically helped me in every way they could so that I could succeed.
“My faith is important to me. Religion is a big part of my life and it was the strength that it gives me that helped me stand here tonight as world champion.”
It is 20 years since Charles Austin became the last American to win a World title, but Williams, who prides himself on his knowledge of the sport, had seen that on television and “it had always been a goal to emulate that.”
So now he is also chasing Austin’s American record of 2.40m “It’s only a difference of three centimetres so it is definitely achievable. But gold medals are more important than records so they take precedence. I’ll worry about the records later,” he concluded.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF