Jamaica gets first Olympic qualifying gymnast

Gymnast Toni-Ann Williams

Jamaica Toni-Ann Williams has made history, becoming the island’s first gymnast to qualify the the Olympics. Williams came in at 38th place overall at the recent Olympic Test event for this summer’s 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She scored as an individual not competing with a full team, with a 52.931 total in the all-around event.

The athlete’s highest score of the day came as a 14.066 on vault, which ranked her 24th among competitors. She also finished in the top 35 on beam (29th, 13.666) and floor (32nd, 13.366). Williams tallied an 11.833 on bars.

“What an amazing accomplishment,” praised Williams’ coach Justin Howell on her qualifying performance. “It’s a little surreal at the moment, but we believed without a doubt that she would qualify.”

A UC Berkley Student, Williams skipped the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships to compete at the Rio Olympic Test Event. But fellow countryman, Jamaican-born Danusia Francis, opted to compete in the Championships, winning first place in the balance beam event. Williams initially finished below Francis at last year’s World Championships, but was given the nod by the Jamaica Gymnastics Association to compete at the Rio event.

Williams started her journey in a tiny, out-of-the-way gym hidden among the hills on the outskirts of Cal’s campus, where she enthusiastically drags a humongous mat to the balance beam area before getting to work. She also carried her own vault springboard to run through several repetitions, as she worked on enhancing her high-flying flip and acrobatic twist.

“I never realised how big that was. I never allowed myself to think that highly of myself before, but I do recognise it now. It helps me stay humble and keeps me going through this crazy journey,” Williams said last year, after discovering that she was the first gymnast to compete for Jamaica.

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