The triple jumper tells Ross Lascelles about the injury which forced him to miss the Commonwealth Games
It may be a cliché, but there’s no denying that there is a lot that can be said about an athlete in the way that they handle setbacks.
Ben Williams is certainly no stranger to setbacks. While the triple jumper has enjoyed his fair share of highs in the sport, including a World Youth Championships gold medal in 2009, he has also experienced a fair few lows.
The 26-year-old missed out on both London 2012 and Rio 2016 due to a knee injury, and that knee has come back to haunt him even more recently.
After being selected for his first senior Commonwealth Games, disaster struck at the British Indoor Championships in February as Williams’ knee forced him to pull out before he was able to complete a jump.
That ultimately led to Williams withdrawing from a huge opportunity to announce himself on the international stage in Queensland last month.
You wouldn’t blame the Stoke-on-Trent jumper for being disheartened, but not one to dwell on the predicament he finds himself in, Williams is only thinking beyond his injury and for him, there is no other way to deal with his adversity than to face it head on.
“It’s just one of those things that life throws at you and you’ve got to deal with,” he says.
“Now I should be resting ready for surgery but I’m in the gym every other day. I’m trying to maintain strength so that when I come away from surgery I’m in the best position possible to get back healthy as fast as possible.
“I’m not overly pushing myself, but I’m working in there. I’m not going to be one of those people that just lies back.”
Given that this is not the first time his knee has kept him out of a major competition, it surely must be difficult for Williams to remain enthusiastic, but in the face of all this misfortune, he is still able to find the positives in what seems like a nightmare scenario.
“It’s almost a blessing in the fact that I can get this sorted”
“The more I’ve sat down and thought about it, the more I’ve looked at old footage of me jumping, I’ve always got a strap on my knee and it’s always been an issue,” he adds.
“You know how horses have those blinkers on to stay focused? I’ve had those blinkers on. It’s like, yes my knee is hurting but it’s fine, I’m going to jump, but it’s hindering me.
“Realistically the surgery should have been done three or four years ago but it wasn’t, I made that decision not to have it done then.
“It’s almost a blessing in the fact that I can get this sorted. Let’s not go through the rest of my career just sticking at low seventeen, let’s see what we can do, let’s see how far over seventeen we can get.”
But despite his positive outlook, Williams admits that missing out on the Commonwealths is one of the toughest blows that he has been dealt throughout his career.
While missing out on the last two Olympic Games has made him slightly more accustomed to dealing with disappointments such as this, the fact that he was actually selected to compete on in Australia makes this one a particularly tough pill to swallow.
“The Commonwealths, don’t get me wrong it’s not the Olympics, I’m not trying to claim that but this is still the hardest,” he explains.
“With the Olympics I’d been injured throughout the year so it was like, this isn’t a possibility this year. With the Commonwealths, having been chosen and booked my ticket basically to then not be able to go due to injury, this is the hardest blow.”
Williams’ mindset is one in which failure is quite simply not an option. Even though competing in Australia was not outside the realm of possibility for the former City of Stoke AC athlete, he was not travelling down under just to make up the numbers and claims that his knee troubles would likely prevent him from reaching the heights he feels he is capable of.
“In all honesty, the be all and end all factor was, could I go out there and jump in the Commonwealths? Possibly. Would I go out there and do myself any justice? No. That was the main factor for me,” he says.
“I wanted to go out there and win. I wasn’t coming away without a medal. With the knee being the way it was, there was no way I would have come away with a medal and I don’t want that disappointment.
“I want to go out there and represent and get my face out there. Not just, Ben made the Commonwealth final. I’m not about that.”
“I wanted to go out there and win. I wasn’t coming away without a medal”
Nevertheless, Williams is focused on what the future holds, and with the European Championships on the horizon, he still has plenty to aim for this year.
Though he admits that the road to Berlin will undoubtedly be a challenging one, it is something in which he can work towards whilst getting back to full fitness over the next few months.
“I’ve got a goal to compete in the European Championships in August. I don’t know whether that’s a realistic goal or whether that’s me saying if I have a goal it’s going to make the rehab a lot easier,” he says.
“I’m going to be very focused. Rather than saying let’s call this season a day and let’s go back in October to do winter training because I’ll probably be less motivated than whereas if I’ve got a target that I’ve got to aim for I’m going to be very motivated.
“I know it’s not a realistic target but for me mentally I think it’s going to massively help me get back.”
After missing out on a Commonwealth Youth gold medal by just a centimetre in 2008, Williams has previously talked about his “unfinished business” with the Commonwealth Games and so his sights are firmly set on the 2022 Games in Birmingham.
“I can finish my unfinished business in Birmingham so that unfinished business is going to stay there until it’s finished,” he says.
“The next opportunity I get is Birmingham, in front of a home crowd. Awesome, I couldn’t write it better.”