Jesse Williams: “If I can jump higher then size doesn’t matter”

Defending high jump world champion Jesse Williams is one of the shortest and heaviest high jumpers to line-up in elite competitions. Here he talks to SPIKES about taking on the Russians in Moscow, and why size doesn’t matter…

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Every time high jump world champion Jesse Williams lines up to be introduced to the crowd, he’s usually the shortest athlete on display. Standing a shade over 6ft (1.83m) tall and weighing 176 lbs (80kg), he casts a unique figure in the slender world of high jump.

Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov, for example, has an extra four inches (10cm) in height and is carrying 28 lbs (13kg) less weight.

“It is what it is, and if I can jump higher then obviously it doesn’t matter,” says Williams. “Almost in every big competition I’m the shortest and usually the heaviest or closest to it, which I take pride in.”

For the 29-year-old, jumping has always been second nature: “When I was a kid we used to make up all kinds of games. I would always make sure it was a jumping event because I knew I would win. Every sport that I played where jumping was favourable, people would get me to do it.

“I played soccer as a kid and when a corner came in they’d line me up so I would leap and head the ball. In basketball they’d wind me up into a position I’d be able to get rebounds. I would use my leaping to my advantage.”

And few can leap like Jesse Williams. A six-time US champion, the high point of his career came in 2011 when he soared to a personal best of 2.37m to land the world title in Daegu: a title he’s looking to retain in Moscow this year.

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Williams celebrates during the men’s high jump final at 13th IAAF World Athletics Championships in Daegu, 2011.

As Williams, and 5ft 11ins (1.8m) 2004 Olympic champion Stefan Holm have proved, being short is no barrier to international high jump success. In fact, being shorter might even have its advantages.

“I work hard on the weights, so I’m a little stronger [than many other jumpers] and I can also bring in a little extra speed,” says Williams. “I have a low centre of gravity so I am in control of limbs a bit more than a taller, gangly athlete. I can also bring a little more athleticism than the taller guys.”

2012 was a year to forget for Williams, after an injury picked up playing basketball hampered his season and he wound up ninth in the Olympic final.

This season though, brings new goals. He has a world title to defend, in a competition staged in Moscow, home to the outstanding crop of Russian high jumpers, led by Ukhov. 

“I’m very excited to take on the Russians in Russia,” says Williams. “I am a student of the sport and I know it is going to be a very tough place to get a victory.

“I know if I can stay healthy, I’m capable of winning the World Championships again. I hope to create some memories in Moscow, just like I did in Daegu.”