For Kendell Williams, the Tokyo Olympics provide another opportunity for glory. But her older brother Devon – who also hoped to compete this year – couldn’t qualify due to injuries.
The swift siblings – both University of Georgia graduates – have already etched their names in modern track lore.
On Sunday, June 27, Kendell Williams finished second in the heptathlon at the U.S. Track & Field Trials in Oregon, earning her second stint as a member of Team USA. At the same trials, Devon Williams (who earlier this year had been dealing with hamstring complications) completed four events on the first day of the decathlon but was unable to continue after injuring himself.
It remains to be seen if the siblings – who both count the other as their inspiration – will one day represent their country together at the Olympic Games, but as Georgia Bulldog teammates they made history in 2017 when Kendell Williams won her fourth NCAA Indoor championship in the pentathlon and Devon Williams captured the national heptathlon title, the first time that siblings recorded a sweep of the multi events at the same NCAA meet.
Kendell Williams – a seven-time NCAA champion and winner of the prestigious Honda Sports Award while at UGA – joins a group of 30 current or former Bulldogs competing in the 2021 Summer Olympic and Paralympic games in Tokyo, Japan. Of that contingent, half are from the Bulldogs’ track program.
“It feels awesome,” she said. “It’s a unique experience. Just being an Olympian is a unique experience, but to get to do it twice – it hasn’t really sunk in that I’m a two-time Olympian because it’s such a huge accomplishment. But I’m really grateful to have made the team and I’m excited to represent the USA again and compete on the world stage.”
Setting high goals for Olympics
At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Kendell Williams finished 17th in the heptathlon and was determined to make her second Olympic appearance more memorable.
“I want to get to the podium,” she said. “That’s the icing on the cake. The first time, the accomplishment is making the team. I was just happy to be there and enjoy the experience. But this time around is different. I’ve moved in the world rankings, so I need to be gearing up for the podium.”
Growing up in Marietta as multi-sport athletes, Kendell and Devon had more than their share of collegiate offers coming out of Kell High School and both said that they didn’t necessarily look at Georgia as their eventual landing place.
“Out of high school, I wanted to go to school out of state because I’m a Georgia boy and was raised here and wanted to go somewhere else and see some other part of the country,” said Devon, who signed on with Georgia in 2012 and graduated with a degree in communications. “But I went to look at my other options and then went to UGA to see what was in my back yard and I kind of fell in love with everything. It felt like UGA was calling me to be there. … It was the best decision I could have made.”
Kendell, a year behind her brother in school, saw how Devon – who narrowly missed making the 2016 Olympic team – had grown at UGA and decided to make Athens her collegiate home.
“From the start, like Devon, I wanted to branch out,” said Kendell, who earned her diploma in advertising. “I took lots of unofficial visits through California and the Southeast. And I had official visits to UGA, LSU and Florida. I realized I wanted to be closer to home. I’d seen how much Devon had improved in one year and it was clear UGA was for me. I’m so happy I stayed in-state.”
The siblings, who trained for the Olympic Trials in Athens, agreed that their respective University of Georgia experiences were positive in many ways.
“My experience at UGA more than met my hopes,” said Kendell. “I was involved in a lot of programs, like Student Athletic Advisory Committee and L.E.A.D. Academy, and I also served on the UGA Athletic Board. I spoke at the groundbreaking for the new football facility, so I’ve received some really cool opportunities.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do academically coming into college,” said Devon. “I initially came in interested in business, but there were classes for that I needed to take that I didn’t want to take, so I ended up switching majors and that’s why I went into communications. I knew it was a broad major. I didn’t know what I wanted to do outside of sports, but I had some classes I did like and overall it was a good academic experience.”
While Kendell is sponsored by sporting goods behemoth Nike, Devon represents the New York Athletic Club and began displaying his entrepreneurial instincts in 2019 by establishing his own brand, MeVsMe, with a line of exercise apparel sporting his distinctive logo. And Devon is also learning the ropes in other business spheres.
“Lately I’ve been interested in real estate,” he said. “I’ve been taking a course to get my real estate license, but I’m also not trying to think too far down the road because I do have a few years left to maximize my athletic career. I’m still laser-focused on my athletic career, but in the back of my mind I’m still trying to move in the right direction so when I am done competing, I already have some sort of foundation for what I want to do afterwards.”
Kendell, who earned a master’s degree in project management at DeVry Institute in May and plans to pursue a master’s in public relations at Georgia, said when her track-and-field days are over, she’d like to work on the creative side at an advertising agency or public relations firm.
It’s clear that no matter where life takes them – together or apart – Kendell and Devon Williams will always have each other’s backs.
“For us to go through this journey together and experience this life together – with its ups and downs – it’s nice to have someone who’s always in your corner,” said Kendell. “And it’s been great for our parents. They only had to wear one color at our meets.”