Triple jump star Ben Williams was the comeback king in 2019.
The Porthill athlete was forced to process another blow to his career the previous year after knee surgery ruled him out of the Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Williams had also missed the Olympics in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, but made up for lost time with a superb season of jumping last year.
Not only did Williams smash his personal best on his return to the sport, he also booked his place in the Great Britain team for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
In fact, the 28-year-old raised the bar in two huge events in 2019.
His previous best leap of 16.74 was consigned to the history books when he jumped 17.14 metres to win gold at the European Team Championships in Poland in August. That also made him the first Briton to register a jump of more than 17m for seven years.
That mark didn’t last long, though. At the British Championships at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, just a fortnight later, Williams produced a lifetime best of 17.27m to clinch the title. And with it, he earned his place in the GB squad for this summer’s Tokyo event.
Williams said: “It looks crazy, but in 2017 I jumped 16.73 twice and my PB was 16.74, so we were in really good shape in 2017, we just never found the good comp with the good conditions.”
Williams also appeared in the World Championships in Doha in September where he eventually finished in 10th place.
But he’ll now be heading to the Olympics knowing he’s made huge strides since learning the sport after watching Jonathan Edwards clinch gold at the 2000 Sydney Games.
“I thought it looked absolutely amazing – he was soaring through the air,” explained Williams.
“So my grandad Ron Harper took me outside and taught me the principles of the hop, step and jump on the pavement and that’s how it all started.”
It has been a long, hard battle, though, to finally fulfil his Olympic dream.
He almost retired after suffering his injury setback, but his determination to recover both physically and mentally came to the fore.
With resources low, he was working as a personal trainer at his local gym in Stoke-on-Trent, squeezing that in with exhausting daily 100-mile round trips to Loughborough University for triple jump training sessions.
But he scraped together enough money to base himself at Loughborough permanently for a month to see if that made a difference to his form.
He said: “I took a really big risk and it’s really paid off. Since moving there my personal best has increased by 53 centimetres.”
Williams’ stock is now rising once more and he’s also landed key sponsorship from JCB to support his efforts for success.
He’s also spent time warm-weather training in South Africa as he ramps up his preparations for the biggest event of his life.
“The sponsorship means the world to me and really takes a lot of pressure off when I can go into next year without any worry and just perform,” he said.
“I’m born and bred in North Staffordshire and it makes me feel so proud that a local company wants to support me in this way. I firmly believe that I can go out there and challenge for a medal.”
Williams has now been nominated in the Senior Individual category at the Sentinel/City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year Awards by Rebecca Procter.
She said: “Ben won the World Youth title in 2009 and has battled through injury and mental health problems to continue to excel in his senior triple jump career.”