Sport: Women's Artistic Gymnastics
Birthday: November 20, 1995 (age 20)
Hometown: Randallstown, Maryland (Jamaican parents means that she is eligible to compete for Jamaica)
Cal affiliation: Current California Golden Bears
Years at Cal: 2014-current
Olympic appearances: 2016 will be her 1st Olympic games
As a freshman in 2015, Toni-Ann Williams made the NCAA Championships as an individual. She also won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honor.
The vault is perhaps, Williams' best event. She has posted a perfect 10 on vaults twice, and she is the NCAA Regional Vault Champion in 2015.
In 2016, Toni-Ann became the first Cal's Pac-12 individual champion since 2004 by winning the floor exercise event.
Coincidentally, in 2016 while the Cal Women's Gymnastics squad made the NCAA championship as a team, Toni-Ann Williams had to miss the NCAA to pursue her shot at being an Olympian. Obviously, given the existence of this post, Toni-Ann was successful in her pursuit.
Williams has been on the Jamaica National Team in 2011, 2012, and 2013 and competed in the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. A deep hand rip cost her a shot at the 2012 game since it diminished her ability to compete on the bars.
More on Toni-Ann:
CalBears.com feature on Toni-Ann Williams:
The American-born Williams was raised in Randallstown, Md., the daughter of two Jamaican emigrants who moved to the U.S. nearly 30 years ago. Williams' parents, Tony and Marlene, run a Jamaican grocery store in Maryland. Growing up, the Williams household was decorated with island-style flavor – tons of palm trees and plants – and Williams often feasted on traditional Jamaican dishes (her favorite is the staple ox-tail soup). Though she was surrounded by a tight-knit Jamaican community, Williams did not feel heavily tied to her heritage.
"My parents wanted me to have my own identity and go to school and make friends and figure out who I am, but also never forget where I came from," Williams said. "It was a good balance of both."
A trip to Jamaica in 2010 changed her feelings for her parents' country. Williams, who was already beginning to flourish as a gymnast at that point, visited the island's gyms. Many were small structures with limited equipment.
"I thought, 'Oh my goodness, it is going to be an uphill battle trying to get gymnastics off the ground here.'" she said. "But I saw the kids, and they were super excited about gymnastics, and I did a few routines for them, and they kept commenting that they had never seen anything like that, so the mood was hopeful and people were willing to put in the hard work. That trip was eye-opening for me."
Inspired by the small support system, Williams turned her focus to embracing her heritage on the international stage in hopes of driving more Jamaican youth to try gymnastics. But how to do that in a country that wholeheartedly embraces track & field success?
"In Jamaica, it's like Usain Bolt is president. They love him, they love track & field and they are all about it all the time. It is what Jamaica is known for, so they take pride in that," Williams said. "It makes it a little harder to make other sports, especially gymnastics, easy to grasp for Jamaicans. Breaking that barrier was definitely really hard in the beginning, and we had some people who were really apprehensive about me competing."
Cal Women's Gymnastics has been on the rise as a program of late. A big reason has been the ability by head coach Justin Howell and his wife Elisabeth Crandall-Howell to recruit athletes of Toni-Ann's caliber. The pair has also been very supportive of Toni-Ann's Olympic pursuit.
Given her age, the best gymnastic from Toni-Ann Williams in a Cal leotard is probably yet to come. May she build on this Olympic experiences and translate it to NCAA championship success in her junior and senior years.
Good luck to Toni-Ann and GO BEARS!