She said it twice in one interview, as if to underline the point. ‘I had her… I had her.’
And she did. With 19 seconds of a nerve-wracking, pulsating taekwondo final remaining, Lauren Williams led her world No 1 opponent by five points. They were ready to party on the streets of Blackwood.
After two rounds of cat and mouse, the 22-year-old Welsh dragon had fired off a furious assault of kicks and body shots on the overwhelming favourite, Croatia’s Matea Jelic, in the third.
Lauren Williams collected a well fought silver medal despite just missing out on a gold medal
Williams was seen off by an agonising late fightback by Matea Jelic of Croatia who took gold
Williams shares a hug with Jelic having been forced to settle for a silver medal in Tokyo
Victory was in her grasp. Team GB was ready to cap a glorious day, a magical Monday, with the perfect ending. But there was to be no fourth gold.
That is the thing about the Olympic Games. You can question why the most welcoming of hosts cannot get to put the world’s greatest show on at a time in the future when its adoring public can come and watch.
You can wonder why they are taking place amid a backdrop of protest and empty stands. You can even ask why the non-Russian Russians are here. But the one thing you cannot query is the level of talent on display.
In the same arena where, on Sunday night, Bradly Sinden suffered late heartbreak, along came the creeping feeling of deja vu. Nobody knows what Team GB did to the Makuhari Messe convention centre in a previous life but it cannot have been pleasant.
Sinden was leading with eight seconds to go. Williams was still in front by three with 10 left. Jelic, seeing defeat in the sparkling blue eyes of her opponent, went to the well. Unfortunately for the Monmouthshire girl, she found it overflowing.
The two fighters enjoy a good relationship and have sparred regularly in recent times
Williams had been in front by three points with just 14 seconds remaining in the final round
It went like this: body kick, penalty, head shot, penalty, body shot, penalty. And with that, the damage was done. By the time the buzzer sounded 21-16 had turned into 22-25. Heartbreak. Again. She had her. She really did. Only then she didn’t.
‘It’s not enough,’ an honest Williams said in the immediate aftermath of a -67kg final for the ages, ‘I had her but I messed up, I made a mistake.’
That is the other thing about the world’s finest — they tend to be incredibly hard on themselves. ‘I tried my best,’ Williams continued. ‘I’m very happy with how I performed. I had her — but an Olympic silver medal isn’t bad.’
Context is key. This, the planet’s biggest stage, is the latest step in an unorthodox journey propelled by caravans. Williams was inspired to take up the sport when watching Jade Jones win gold in London 2012 on holiday in a mobile home.
At 14, she was old enough to be selected to train with the Great Britain squad in its Manchester HQ but not old enough to move into digs.
The Welsh fighter led for much of the contest but could not see off the favourite on Monday
The 22-year-old shares a discussion with her coach during time-out at the final
Instead, her mum had a brainwave and moved with her daughter from south Wales to northern England. They slept on sofas in the family caravan.
When asked if she dreamed of an Olympic podium while living off microwave meals in her temporary accommodation, Williams was quick to respond.
‘No!’ she said. ‘That girl in 2012, watching the telly — I never thought I’d be here with the best athletes in the world. I made a lot of sacrifices. I’ve lost out on a lot of the usual teenage years.
Friends, family holidays. I moved away from home. It’s been difficult but I wouldn’t change it for the world. To be 22 and stood on the podium is incredible.’
When the medal arrived, Williams turned it over and over in her hands. There was no football-style ripping it from around her neck. There will be more opportunities for gold but the sting of this will take some time to depart.
Williams connects with a kick to the head in an well contested Olympic final in Tokyo
Williams has fought back from a series of recent injuries to superbly reach the Olympic final
‘I knew I was winning but I didn’t know there were only 10 seconds left,’ she explained. ‘I made a mistake — I went reactive. A mistake has been made on the biggest stage of my career and hopefully it will never happen again. I’ve just got to move on.’
There is a lot to like about Williams, who remains wonderfully grounded. ‘I FaceTimed my family all day to keep my head level,’ she said. ‘To remind me it’s just another competition and I’ve got my mum and dad having a cup of tea at home.’
Even now she could laugh at herself. ‘Injury didn’t cross my mind,’ she said when quizzed about a recent hamstring tear. ‘I was fully focused on what I had to do.’ She then paused and added with a smile: ‘Until the last 10 seconds.’
Williams turned her parents’ living room into a gym after moving back to Wales at the start of lockdown and disclosed that she had destroyed some of the ornaments while she trained.
After this most cruel finish, everyone was left in pieces.