Forget tennis. We find out why athletics' sprint hurdle double act Danielle and Shermaine are ushering in a new era of Williams Sisters dominance.

Danielle Williams provided one of the shocks of August's Beijing World Championships by striking gold in the 100m hurdles. In her first major global championship final, she held off the challenge of the strong US continegent to win a lifetime best 12.57. Big sister Shermaine also performed with pride for the Williams clan, placing seventh in the final in 12.95.

The half-sisters – they share the same father but different mothers – grew up in different parts of Jamaica; Shermaine, 25, in the countryside parish of Clarendon and Danielle, 23, in the capital city of Kingston.

Shermaine took up hurdling aged 13 and quickly enjoyed success, winning silver medals at the 2007 world youth champs (beating 2015 world number two Jasmin Stowers and Pan American long jump champion Christabel Nettey in the final) and the 2008 world junior champs (ahead of Alina Talay of Belarus, who won bronze behind Danielle in Beijing). Danielle was impressed and inspired.

“I used to go and watch her race,” she admits. “She was a world junior and world youth medallist and at that time, I was nowhere near her standard.”

In 2008, Shermaine was offered a scholarship to Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, USA, where her high school coach, Jamaican Lennox Graham, had been offered a coaching position. By then Danielle was also progressing in the hurdles, placing fourth at the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton. The following year she joined big sis at JCSU, also to be coached by Graham. 

“World juniors were a really springboard to make me to think 'yes, I can do this',” admits Danielle, a business and sports management student.

Shermaine Williams ()

Shermaine (R) in action at the 2008 World Junior Championships where she won silver

The pair continue to train together under Graham’s guidance, but have quite different personalities. “I’m more laidback and reserved. They call me the quiet one,” admits Shermaine. By contrast, Jamaican media liaison Dennis Gordon describes Danielle as an “extrovert”. They live 15 minutes apart and rarely socialise away from the track, yet the sisters share a close bond and can be insanely competitive in training.

“I will maybe get one [win one of the reps], then my sister will get the next one and we’ll both really want that final one,” says Shermaine. “I think I have the better work ethic.”

It is a point Danielle concedes: “Yes, she does. Shermaine does more training than I ever would do. I just try and keep up with her as best as I can.”

Shermaine, who graduated in biology from JCSU in 2011, competed at London 2012 and reached the semi-finals. However, by 2013 her younger sister was starting to gain the upper hand. At the 2013 Jamaican Championships Danielle took her first ever victory over Shermaine, clocking a PB 12.69. The pair competed together at the 2013 Moscow World Championships, both being eliminated in the semi-finals. It was an overwhelming experience for the then 20-year-old Danielle.

“I was a little bit star struck,” she admits. “I was drawn in the same race as [2008 Olympic champion] Dawn Harper-Nelson and [2012 Olympic champion] Sally Pearson, athletes I’d been watching on TV. Suddenly I was racing them.”

For the past 15 months Danielle has triumphed over her big sister in each of their seven races (their career record is now 8-8). The sisters disagree on whether sibling rivalry adds any spice to their showdowns.

While Danielle says “it’s no different to lining up against any athlete,” Shermaine disagrees. “Well, who wants to be beaten by their sister?” she asks. Certainly not us.

Danielle Williams ()

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Last winter, Danielle worked hard in the weights room and placed more emphasis on core work. A strong, if short, indoor season showed signs of improvement, with her 60m hurdle PB cut down to 8.02. But even after the confidence boost that came when she won the world university title in July, her target in Beijing was just to reach the final. In China she started like a rocket, third fastest in the heats in 12.77 despite running into a 1.8m/s headwind. In the semi she trimmed 0.11 from her PB to record 12.59, and in a dramatic final she went another one hundredth quicker to take gold.

It was a bittersweet moment for the Williams clan. Shermaine underperformed in the final, making a poor start and finishing seventh in 12.95 – slower than she ran in both her heat (where she equalled her PB of 12.78) and semi.

Yet the pair are bound by blood. As soon as Danielle was confirmed as world champion Shermaine was right on hand to give her younger sister the most deserved hug of her life.

“If it is not me winning, I’d rather it go to the family,” says Shermaine. In such circumstances, being beaten by your lil' sis' ain't so bad.

(Header image: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)