Williams To Take On World

Aug. 27, 2003

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO – In just a few weeks, the 2003 World Championships of Freestyle Wrestling will be underway in New York City. Team USA’s Joe Williams is coming off a gold-medal performance at the 2003 Pan American Games and is primed and ready to take on the world’s best.

The No. 1-ranked U.S. wrestler in his weight class of 74kg/163lbs, Williams has dominated his opponents throughout his career. In college, he was a three-time NCAA champion at the University of Iowa. He is a four-time World Cup champion, three-time U.S. National champion, and was recently the recipient of the John Smith Award as Freestyle Wrestler of the Year, the second time he has won the prestigious honor.

Going into the World Championships, his goal is simple.

“I’m going there to win it. I’ve already been to a couple world championships; this one is here in the U.S, so I’ll have all my friends and family behind me. I am really looking forward to getting to New York to finish what I set out to do, which is win it all.”

He seems to be at the top of his game. Making his home in Iowa City, Iowa, just a short drive from the University of Iowa where he now serves as an assistant wrestling coach, Williams spends the majority of his day surrounded by some of the top wrestlers and coaches in the nation. He was coached by wrestling legend Dan Gable in college, and now works with Jim Zalesky and Tom Brands, also prominent wrestling figures. Not bad company!

Williams and his wife Kim, a former University of Iowa athlete herself, have a 17-month-old son named Kaleb. Spending time with his family is another priority he holds dear.

“When I’m not out traveling to competitions or training somewhere, I love to be home. Just being around my son makes me realize how simple life is. He’s got his toys, he eats and sleeps, and that’s about it. I grew up in a much different environment, which helps me to make things a lot more available for him.”

“To represent the country and everything it stands for, that’s something that is amazing. Even when we were at the Pan Am Games and had all the different sports and athletes together, I was in awe. You really do feel like you’re part of a much larger team and you keep that in mind when you go into competition.”
Joe Williams

Williams came from an area in Chicago, Ill. where one could easily be led into trouble. He considers that one of the biggest challenges he’s had to overcome in his life.

“Early in my career, the hardest thing was to be focused enough to go to college. In the area I grew up in, I could have gone a lot of different ways, and none of those would have gotten me to where I am today.”

That place being the top, of course.

As he wrestles his way to more and more national and world titles, he works for the highest honor he can imagine, an Olympic gold medal.

“Ever since I started way back in the third grade, I’ve always had the vision of bringing home a gold medal from the Olympics. Now it’s there, knocking on my front door, almost like a dream come true.”

Williams understands the significance of such an opportunity.

“To represent the country and everything it stands for, that’s something that is amazing. Even when we were at the Pan Am Games and had all the different sports and athletes together, I was in awe. You really do feel like you’re part of a much larger team and you keep that in mind when you go into competition.”

Being surrounded by other top athletes began years ago for Williams. He graduated from Mount Carmel High School, an all-male Catholic school on the south side of Chicago, which also produced the likes of Donovan McNabb, starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Antoine Walker, an NBA All-Star and starting forward for the Boston Celtics.

The importance of hard work was obviously demonstrated back then, and it has continued to carry him through his career.

Assistant Coaches Joe Williams, Royce Alger and Tom Brands celebrate Iowa’s 22-18 win over defending NCAA Champion Minnesota in February 2003.

A typical day for Williams begins at 5:30 a.m. when he wakes up and gets caught up on email and news. He heads to the gym around 8 o’clock for a workout that consists of lifting weights, running and wrestling drills. If he’s not working at the University, he comes home and does things around the house, then relaxes for a few hours. He goes back to the gym mid-afternoon for more running, drills and hard wrestling. He spends the evening with his family, then does yet another short workout to get his heart rate pumping, and finally relaxes in a sauna before going to bed. He says that the work he puts into his training provides all the motivation he needs.

“Looking back at how hard I train, there are so many hours that go into wrestling for a six-minute match, but I love it. I love to be able to work out and sweat and see how hard I can push myself. I want to someday say that I gave it my all and was the best at what I did.”

He seems to be well on his way. Though he’s never had any serious injuries or health problems, he has had his share of battle wounds and scars to prove his toughness. Most recently at the Pan American Games, he suffered a cut during his semifinal, causing him to wrestle the remainder of the match with one eye closed. Then, just one day later in his gold medal match, he was cut again, this time on the eyelid of his right eye. He returned home with seven stitches over his left eye and crazy glue on the wound over his right eye. In order to train without reopening the wounds, he wore tape around his head to hold the bandages intact.

“Everything is healing, now it’s just a matter of being careful so they don’t get hit again. I just don’t think I’m going to have a modeling career anymore.”

Regardless of what happens to his future in modeling, the continuance of his wrestling domination is a pretty safe bet. He believes the same.

“I really feel that my most memorable experiences are yet to come. I am happy with all my past experiences and matches and am glad I have accomplished what I have so far, but they’re all menial to the Worlds and Olympics. That’s my ultimate surprise, what’s yet to come.”

By Diana Kersbergen, United States Olympic Training Center