Michael Williams stood patiently on the edge of the pool, adjusting his goggles and limbering up his arms awaiting the official starter's signal to begin the race.
The event was the 200-yard freestyle in last year's Interhigh swimming and diving championships at Wilson High School.
His team (H.D. Woodson) was in first place going in to the second day of competition, with the 200 the first event of the day.
After a mediocre start, Williams was in third place, but gaining on the leaders. As the race continued, he got stronger and the leaders started to fade.
He won the event in two minutes, 24.69 seconds, besting Cornell Kinard of Cardozo, who finished in 2:28.89.
Although H.D. Woodson didn't win the overall championship, Williams' victory helped his team finish strongly, taking second with 101 1/2 points to 117 for Wilson.
"It was the first individual event of the day and his win really set the pace for us and got us going," said Bruce Bradford, the H.D. Woodson "He is already 4 to 5 seconds ahead of his best 200 freestyle time of last year. "This year he is more comfortable and doesn't feel like a novice." -- Woodson Coach Bruce Bradford coach whom Williams credits for much of his success.
Williams, a senior, was an Interhigh champion in only his first year of competitive swimming. After attending DeMatha for two years, he transferred to H.D. Woodson and tried out for the swimming team.
But being around pools is not new to Williams. As a child, he swam in neighborhood pools, including Fort Chaplin Park Apartments. He has worked as a lifeguard at the Washington Navy Yard pool and for the D.C. Department of Recreation at Oxon Run.
Williams, at the suggestion of Bradford, is experimenting this season with the breaststroke.
"The coach felt that it would be good for a senior to be able to master two strokes rather than just be isolated to one stroke," said Williams. "My practice time separates into one and one-half hours concentrating on my freestyle strokes and one hour working on my breaststroke techniques."
"He is just beginning to reach a degree of confidence and is able to see where his goals are desirable," said Bradford. "He is already 4 to 5 seconds ahead of his best 200 freestyle time of last year.
"This year he is more comfortable and doesn't feel like a novice."
Williams has a very simple philosophy about swimming.
"I just try to do the best that I can in each event and meet," he said. "My best time is my competition. My philosophy is mind over matter, swim hard and push yourself that little extra. That's where strength and conditioning work in practice is an asset."
As for strategy during a race, Williams relies on the judgment of his coach.
"He knows the swimmers and the competition, and he decides if I should go all out in a race or swim against the clock," said Williams.
His hard work has earned him the respect of his teammates and coach, and recently, he was named team cocaptain.
Williams would like to finish his senior year by successfully defending his 200 freestyle championship and winning any other events he enters to help the Woodson capture the Interhigh swimming title.
If he succeeds, Williams will credit his coach.
"Coach Bradford has helped me tremendously not only in swimming, but also to adjust to public school, since I had attended private school all of my life," said Williams, who would like to continue swimming in college. "He's more than just a coach; he's a friend."