Nashville, TN

Lily Williams, Nashville's Vanderbilt first female graduate competing at 2020 Olympics

Lenny Schumacher

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NASHVILLE, TN — Lily Williams is one of the track cyclists representing Team USA in the Olympics in Tokyo. She is the first-ever female Vanderbilt graduate to compete in the Olympics. In 2020, she won the UCI Track Cycling World Championships, and this year, she is eyeing the gold medal.

The cyclist graduated from Vanderbilt in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology, English, and Latin American Studies. Williams initially ran at Vanderbilt before deciding to quit from sports. The last run for her was in the SEC Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Williams was about to say goodbye to sports forever. After being accepted to a graduate program at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, she moved to Chicago and brought a bike with her.

“I was so ready to be done with sports. I was ready to just not be a competitor.” Williams said.

The daughter of an Olympic speed skater applied for a part-time job in a bike store in Chicago. This job helped her find a new passion and bring her to Tokyo five years later.

A co-worker in the store convinced her to try a new sport for her — cyclocross — a sport in which participants ride and occasionally carry bicycles through primarily dirt courses.

She transitioned from cyclocross to road racing with Northwestern’s club cycling team. Early in 2017, she won a small regional race and intended to join a team for the Joe Martin Stage Race, an annual event in Arkansas with a lengthy history.

She is now a professional athlete, and rally cycling allowed her to put road racing on hold in order to train on the track in preparation for the Olympics.

The head of the women’s endurance track program for USA Cycling, Gary Sutton, thinks Lily’s progress is exceptional, saying, “It’s just amazing how Lily has progressed.”

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