Georgia’s Christopher Morales Williams: from obscurity to world’s fastest

UGA sophomore establishes world-best time in 400 meters
Christopher Morales Williams, a sophomore at the University of Georgia, clocked 44.49 seconds in the 400-meter run at the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Fayetteville, Ark. He won the SEC championship and set school, conference and collegiate records. (Photo by UGA Athletics)

Credit: Photo by UGA

Credit: Photo by UGA

Christopher Morales Williams, a sophomore at the University of Georgia, clocked 44.49 seconds in the 400-meter run at the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, in Fayetteville, Ark. He won the SEC championship and set school, conference and collegiate records. (Photo by UGA Athletics)

ATHENS — Georgia track coach Caryl Smith Gilbert had high hopes for Christopher Morales Williams going into the SEC Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, last week. She did not, however, expect to witness history.

Morales Williams, a sophomore from Canada, clocked 44.49 seconds in the 400-meter run not only to win the SEC championship and set school, conference and collegiate records, but he established a world record, though not officially, in the process. His time bested the 44.52 mark set by Michael Norman in 2018.

“Well, he’s been training well,” said Smith Gilbert, who is in her third season at the helm of Georgia’s program. “I was surprised it was 44.4, but I wasn’t surprised it was 44-something, let’s say.”

No, the Bulldogs have expected big things from Morales Williams since he arrived from the distant outpost of Vaughn, Ontario. It’s just that it has been unseasonably cold in Georgia this winter. So, without an indoor facility to train in at UGA, she had a 100-meter-long tent erected along the straightaway at Spec Towns Track.

That’s not the greatest solution for those whose races carry them beyond that distance. But obviously it sufficed for Morales Williams, as he shocked the field and left competitors in his wake Saturday. He finished almost a full second (0.88) ahead of second-place finisher JeVaughn Powell of Florida.

“Everything doesn’t have to be perfect for you to run your best,” said Morales Williams, who came to UGA as a midyear enrollee in January 2023. “I don’t think you have to feel 100% or everything has to be just right. Honestly, sometimes you run the best when it’s not because it makes you push harder in the moment.

“As for the cold weather, I’m from Canada. So, I’m used to it. It makes the workouts harder, but that only makes you stronger.”

Morales Williams’ 400 run comes with an asterisk, unfortunately. His time cannot be fully ratified by World Athletics, formerly known as the International Association of Athletics Federations, because SIS starting blocks were not used at the SEC Indoor meet. SIS stands for Start Information System, which uses pressure to electronically detect a false start.

Such starting blocks are expensive and uncommon at regional meets. It’s unclear whether they’ll be used at the national indoors, which get under way next week in Boston.

“I still have the world’s fastest time, so it doesn’t bother me at all,” Morales Williams said. “I know I’m on the right track, and I know I can do it again eventually.”

That most exciting aspect of Morales Williams’ world-fastest run is the potential that might be on the other side of it. His improvement has been exponential since he arrived on the scene.

Arriving with the indoor season already underway last year, he ended up finding his place as one of the legs in Georgia’s powerful 4x400-meter team, which finished second nationally at the NCAA Outdoor meet. But Morales Williams’ personal best in the 400 last year was 47.42, when he finished sixth at the Texas Tech Open. He went out in the prelims at 27th in last year’s SEC Indoors with a 47.90.

This season, Morales Williams’ progression in the 400 this season has been 46.05 to win the New Balance Collegiate Showdown (on the same Boston track where NCAA Indoor Championships will be) on Jan. 20; then, 45.39 to win the Tiger Paw Invitational (Clemson) on Feb. 9-10; then 44.49 to win the SEC Indoor championship last weekend.

Morales Williams credits the physical and mental training he has been getting from sprints coach Karim Abdel Wahab since arriving at UGA.

“Being able to actually overcome my fears and my nerves at a meet has really helped,” Morales Williams said. “I don’t feel as nervous.”

Credit Gilbert Smith for Morales Williams’ presence in Athens. She was introduced to him by former Canadian sprinter and coach Tony Sharpe, who coached Olympic gold medalist Andre De Grasse before De Grasse ran for Gilbert Smith at Southern Cal.

Morales Williams was late in becoming a dedicated track athlete. He mostly played soccer as a youth. But Sharpe informed Gilbert Smith that he had a tall kid that had run a “20-point-something” 200 meters without much training in Canada.

“When he tells me somebody’s good, I tend to believe it at this point,” Gilbert Smith said of Sharpe. “But if a high school kid can run ‘20-point’ and has good size and hasn’t trained very long and coach Sharpe is endorsing him, we’ve got to try it. And it’s cold up there. They don’t have the weather.”

Morales Williams trained under Sharpe at Speed Academy Track Club in Pickering, Ontario. There he met DeGrasse, who became an idol he hopes to emulate.

“He’s probably my biggest role model because of everything he’s done for the (Canadian) team,” Morales Williams said. “He’s much more than an inspiration. He’s done a lot for all of us in many ways.”

Meanwhile, De Grasse is watching his protégé's career with interest.

“I’m really excited to see what Christopher does through the rest of this season and in the years ahead,” De Grasse said in a statement. “Tony and coach Caryl helped shape me as both an athlete and as a person. So, I know that Christopher is in good hands.”

Georgia sophomore Christopher Morales Williams poses next to the scoreboard that recorded his world's-best 400-meter time of 44.79 seconds, which he ran Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 at the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Photo from UGA Athletics)

Credit: Wesley Hitt 501-258-0920

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Credit: Wesley Hitt 501-258-0920

Morales Williams’ rate of progress would indicate that there are many great times in his future. For the first time in his track career, he finds himself willing to verbalize that the Olympic Games “always are on my radar.”

“That’s always been my plan, especially after I went to nationals last year,” Morales Williams said. “I realize I have a shot. But nothing’s going to change. We’re just going to keep doing the same things.”

That certainly has worked well so far. But there’s no question that, from now on, every time Morales Williams gets into the blocks, the competition will be looking at him as the one to beat.

That’s definitely going to be the case next week in Boston.

“Can he do it at NCAAs?” Smith Gilbert asked rhetorically. “We don’t talk about intangibles or extrinsic motivations. We have a team rule, and the coaches have to live by it, too: You have 12 hours to bask in your glory or 12 hours to wallow in your demise. Then, you move forward. You have to let it go.”