Rhys Williams has retired after a long and successful career on the track. Pic: Getty Images.

Rhys Williams Bows Out With Medals And Memories From A Lifetime In A Wales Vest

By Owen Morgan

 

A long-term Achilles injury has proved one hurdle too many for an athlete who has been described as “an icon of the sport in Wales”.

Rhys Williams, who represented Great Britain and Wales in the 400m hurdles at Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth level, has brought the curtain down on one of the most successful careers in Welsh athletics history after announcing his retirement.

During almost two decades competing at the top level of the sport, the Bridgend speedster became European Champion at every level from Under-18 up to seniors.

In 2006 he won European Championship bronze in the 400m hurdles and then went on to gain silver alongside fellow Welshman Tim Benjamin in the 4x400m relay at the same meeting.

Four years later he claimed silver in the 400m hurdles at the European Championships and he completed his collection of Euro medals with gold at the 2012 Helsinki event.

That same year, Williams competed at the London Olympics, where he reached the semi-finals. The Cardiff AAC athlete also reached global semi-finals at the 2005 and 2013 World Championships.

A fiercely patriotic Welshman, Williams also wore the red vest with great distinction, most notably at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006 where he finished fourth, and again at Delhi 2010, where he went one better to claim the bronze.

Williams was hoping to make it a hat-trick of Commonwealth appearances at next year’s games on the Gold Coast of Australia until injury finally intervened.

In a statement announcing his retirement, the 2016 Welsh Male Athlete of the Year said: “As a patriotic Welshman, nothing has given me more pride than putting on a Welsh Vest and competing for my country. Unfortunately, injury has prematurely ended my hopes of competing one last time at The Commonwealth Games next year. However, I will be cheering on all of the Welsh team.”

The son of Welsh rugby legend J.J. Williams, who himself competed at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, the hurdler paid special tribute to those who had supported him throughout his career.

“I would like to personally thank Welsh Athletics and Sport Wales for all their help and support during my athletics career. I would also like to thank all my support team who have supported me faithfully over the years; my family, coaches, sponsors and all my training partners.”

A thread which ran through much of his career was the great rivalry with fellow Welsh 400m hurdler Dai Greene, which saw the two athletes – hailing from towns less than 30 miles apart – competing for titles and flying the flag for Wales on a global stage.

A memorable day for Welsh athletics saw the two Welshmen finish first and second at the European Championships in Barcelona in 2010, when Greene prevailed.

But two years later in Helsinki, it was Williams who stood on top of the podium with the gold medal around his neck.

Williams had hoped to compete at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but was robbed of the opportunity after failing a doping test and given a four-month ban for inadvertently taking a banned substance in a supplement.

He was back competing for honours in 2016 when he was the highest placed British athlete in the 2016 European Championship 400m hurdles final, where he finished fifth.

Earlier this year he received the Award of Honour for his services to Welsh athletics.

Commenting on Rhys Williams’ retirement, Welsh Athletics’ Head of Coaching and Performance Scott Simpson said: “Rhys’ decision to retire from the sport is one that has clearly been given a great deal of thought and one that we have met with the utmost respect and support – it is never an easy decision to make.

“He is an icon within the sport in Wales having achieved so much on the international stage – winning medals at European and Commonwealth level throughout all of the age groups, as well as representing Great Britain on the World stage and at a home Olympic Games.  He was, and will continue to be an inspiration to many and I would like to thank Rhys for all that he has offered to the sport during his extensive career at the top.

“I would also like to wish him well in his transition from professional sport into the next chapter on his journey, whilst truly hoping that he remains part of the sport in some other guise in the future.”

 

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