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UEL road to Rio: Bianca Williams grateful for university support as Olympic trials loom

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Sprint star targeting 200 metres final and a relay medal at Olympics

University of East London student Bianca Williams says she is determined to follow in the footsteps of her close friend and fellow UEL sports scholar, Aimee Willmott, by booking her place at the Rio Olympics this summer.

Swimmer Aimee has already been selected for the Games along with UEL boxer Lawrence Okolie, and track sprinter Bianca has set her sights on joining them in Brazil.

"My aim is to get selection for Rio, make the final in the 200 metres and hopefully win a medal in the relay. That will be a really good year if I can do that.

“At university, all my friends have been saying things like ‘Bianca’s going to qualify for the Olympics’. I just hope I do. It would mean a lot to me and my mum as well, thinking that her daughter has achieved so much by going to a great university and qualifying for the Olympics and probably reaching the final.

“If you go to the Olympics, no-one can ever take that away from you. It’s something that my cousins and everyone else can just look at and think, ‘You know what, I want to grow up to be like her. I want to be a sportswoman and qualify for the Olympic Games or any sort of high-level competition.’ It would be quite inspirational.”

Bianca, a double bronze medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, has been ranked No 2 in the UK in the 200 metres for the last two seasons.

She will be hoping to secure her Rio place in the 200 metres at next month’s Olympic trials in Birmingham, where the first two women across the line will gain automatic selection. A third athlete can also be chosen at the discretion of the selectors.

The challenge for Bianca is that the women’s 200 metres is one of the competitive track events in the UK, with at least half a dozen top-class athletes chasing the three available Olympic spots, including fellow UEL student Shannon Hylton.

“In the 200 metres, so many girls are running quickly,” said Bianca. “Even this year, there are about three girls who have run under 23 seconds already. It’s exciting but scary at the same time because you want to be the one to do it. But at least the competition in the 200 metres helps push us on, which is good.”

Bianca says she is also inspired by the memory of watching Adam Gemili, who graduated from UEL last year, securing his place at the London Olympics four years ago.

“I remember in 2012 we had our World Junior Championships in Barcelona. I tore my hamstring before the championships but luckily I still went along with Adam Gemili.

“Then, at the senior trials, Adam qualified for the London Olympics, which was amazing to see. You just think to yourself, ‘In four years’ time, this is where I want to be’. I want to be on the start-line. I don’t want to be at home watching it on telly.”

Bianca, a final-year Sport and Exercise Science student, has had to juggle training with her studies but is full of praise for the way UEL supports its elite athletes by adopting a flexible approach to course deadlines.

“There are so many sportsmen and women at UEL that they look after like my friend, Aimee, who has just qualified for the Olympics. I’m really pleased for her and it’s great to see that," she said.

“The university allows us to achieve our goals and achieve our dreams. They’ve also helped me with my course work in allowing me to go to training camps and extend my deadlines, just so I can achieve what I need to.

“They’ve been really, really helpful. I’m just so grateful to the University, to be honest, because it would have been so much harder if I hadn’t have been getting the support.”

Bianca admits the pressures of training and studying have required a lot of sacrifice and self-discipline but says gaining a degree will rank alongside her many achievements on the track.

“The reason I chose to go to university is that sport doesn’t last for long,” she said. “God forbid, I could fall down the stairs tomorrow and really hurt myself. That could be it.

“I think having a degree is so important to fall back on. I can go into any path in sports science. I decided to go to university to have something by my name, not just sport. Someone can look at my CV and say, ‘Wow, she’s gone to university and done elite sport as well. That’s amazing’.”