Introducing Peter Williams, international swimming’s Don Quixote.
The pony-tailed holder of the fourth-fastest time in history in the 50-meter freestyle (22.18 seconds) doesn’t have the backing of his native country South Africa, spent the week leading up to the Santa Clara International Invitational pulling weeds in between training sessions in Lincoln, Neb., and plans to spend the Olympics camping in a tent somewhere in Montana.
Williams has been at odds with the powers that be in South African sports, talking freely and frankly about the problems within the system. He suffered a torn tendon in his left ankle three weeks before the March trials and could not compete. Since then, Williams, 28, has been waging a campaign to be put on the Olympic team--along with the help of the national coach and world-record holder Penny Heyns--yet to no avail.
Nebraska’s swimming Coach Cal Bentz said Williams’ performance here on Saturday greatly strengthened his case. Williams won the 50 freestyle convincingly in 22.73, not only falling under the Olympic qualifying standard but among the fastest 20 times in the world this year.
“He’s a person who is very principled,” Bentz said. “In my mind for him not to be in Atlanta is a travesty. And it’s a travesty that should set an example for all athletes, that they should be the ones who have the power, rather than the politicians.”
Said Williams: “That the trials is the sole selection meet, that in itself is crazy to me. In a country that has been out of sports for 30 years to have one sole meet, when you should be giving your younger swimmers an opportunity, which is what I was pushing for. But it doesn’t make any sense.”
After the disappointment of missing the trials, Williams only resumed swimming recently when Bentz called and urged him to return to Lincoln to resume training in a team atmosphere. Without any government funding or sponsorship, Williams said he has spent more than $20,000 of his own money to subsidize his training.
Before traveling to Santa Clara, he spent the last week working as a gardener between practice sessions, which made his time Saturday more remarkable. The second-place finisher, Bill Pilzcuk of Cape May, N.J., finished in 23.14. U.S. Olympian Gary Hall Jr. did not qualify for finals.
The race for the most impressive performance here is coming down to American sprinter Jenny Thompson and USC’s Kristine Quance. Thompson, who will be in the 400-freestyle relay in Atlanta, won the 200 freestyle Saturday in 2:00.05, her third individual victory in less than 24 hours. Quance, however, won two events in less than an hour--the 100 breaststroke (1:11.13) and the 200 individual medley (2:15.85).