There are five colours that make up the interlocking Olympic rings. Red, blue, green, yellow, and black. For the athletes that attend, only one matters: Gold. Gold is all that resounds for every elite athlete, however, for some the Olympics is a goal that rests on the horizon, lingering ever close but elusively out of reach. For karate athletes, including Natalie Williams, one of England’s top female competitors, this has unfortunately been the case throughout her career.
Williams, a London born 26 year old, sits and watches the television every four years as athletes from all corners of the world, at their physical peak, hope their name is written in the record books. They hope that all their dreams will come true on this very day. She sits and watches the white, blue and red of the Great Britain competitors claim their glory, proud to have the Union Jack stitched across their heart.
She too wears those colours; she too wears that badge. For eight years she has done so at senior level. However, unlike these Olympians, because she competes in a sport which doesn’t feature in the Olympics she doesn’t get that chance. ‘I get very annoyed karate isn’t in the Olympics’, she says, ‘especially watching Tae Kwon Do and Judo as they’re not entertaining to watch, they’re embarrassing, confusing and don’t represent martial arts properly’.
When karate was again put on the list of sports that would be considered for Olympic inclusion for the London 2012 Games, Williams saw that glimmer of hope again. She says, ‘When I thought 2012 was possible I thought right, I’m not stopping’.
However, in 2005 at the International Olympic Committee meeting in Singapore karate again missed out on securing its place at the games by not reaching the necessary amount of votes. When this happened, Williams says she ‘felt the morale of the karate community drop’ and could ‘feel the disappointment among the competitors on the world stage’.
Since then, just like beforehand, Williams had to set her sights elsewhere, her Olympic dreams over. For younger karate athletes, that lingering optimism remained providing them with a hint of incentive in continuing on their Olympic quest. This was due to karate being again up for inclusion in the 2016 games to be held in Rio de Janeiro. ‘2016 is too far off, and I’ll be too old,’ Williams says, her voice quietening with a subtle sadness. And now, for many of these youngsters, that dream too will have to be put on hold with another vote ousting karate in favour of golf and rugby sevens.
Perhaps, the biggest long shot of them all, and last shot for Williams, is karate being included in the London games as an unofficial demonstration sport. Demonstration sports were stopped after the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain due to growing organisational and time constraints. However, in Beijing 2008 they were allowed to include a representational sport as it showcased the traditional Chinese sport of Wushu. London at this time however, has not pushed for inclusion of any such sport.
Now, forced to re-evaluate her goals, Williams has produced some results that again make her think of what could have been had she had just one shot at the Olympics.
This has included winning two World University titles, silver at the World University Championships as well as winning the prestigious Dutch Open in March this year. ‘My biggest win had to be at the Mexico 2002 World Uni’s. I didn’t drop a point and was shocked that I won and how well I’d won.’
Her career is certainly full of highlights, just as it is some lows, but for her the recent ‘loss of funding’ was the biggest disappointment so far. Subsequently, she has to hold down a full-time job, dealing with Digital Relations at Universal Records, a distraction our Olympic athletes certainly do not have to bear.
As a consequence, although she is achieving just as much as Olympic athletes for Britain, she feels she is ‘treated inferior to Olympic athletes’ but believes confidently in herself that she is not so. Williams says, almost exasperatingly, ‘Karate has results in competitions that far outweigh other sports as well as Olympic sports but yet we don’t get the funding, support or recognition of our records like the other sports’.
Natalie Williams in fact could have pursued other sports. Netball, running, she even excelled at dancing. She credits her limber and agile kicking to the skills she gained from ballet. But karate lured her away from all of these, not least helped by the fact that her Dad ran a karate club in Beckenham and she wanted to be better than her three brothers, Adrian, Marcus and Aaron. ‘At tournaments I was always known as Marcus’ sister,’ she jokes, although she was proud to say that Marcus was in fact her initial inspiration having been the best fighter at their association. Now, she is known by all for her own achievements.
Although karate was obviously her passion, having not been included in the Olympics, she did consider switching codes. But which? ‘I thought about Tae Kwon Do but after watching it I thought it was too restrictive. Karate encompasses throwing, kicking and punching but what I saw seemed to have no skill,’ she says bluntly.
Passion, faith, victory, work ethic, and sportsmanship are what the Olympic rings represent. For Natalie Williams, she has shown passion in the way she represents her country. She has had the work ethic to gain victories that have put her on top of the world. And along the way her sportsmanship has been impeccable. Faith however, has wavered. She had to place her faith into the hands of the Olympic Committee entrusting they would return the verdict she desired. Karate though, is still not one of the 28 sports played on the biggest stage in the most prestigious sporting event that exists – the Olympic Games.
The Olympic rings also represent every continent that partakes in the Olympics. Again, Natalie Williams has beaten competitors from each and every one. However, Williams and her opponents all share one commonality: an inner torch that burnt ever so slightly in hope of being an Olympian. For now, it has been extinguished.