Percy Williams (sprinter)

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Percy Alfred Williams
Percy Williams 1928.jpg
Percy Williams at the 1928 Olympics
Personal information
BornMay 19, 1908
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
DiedNovember 29, 1982(1982-11-29) (aged 74)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Height1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)
Weight56 kg (123 lb)
SportSprint running
ClubVancouver Athletic Club

Percy Alfred Williams[1] OC (May 19, 1908 – November 29, 1982) was a Canadian athlete, winner of the 100 and 200 metres races at the 1928 Summer Olympics and a former world record holder for the 100 metres sprint.

Early life[edit]

Williams was the only child of Frederick Williams, who was originally from England, and Charlotte Rhodes, who hailed from St. John's, Newfoundland.[2][3] At the age of 15, Williams suffered from rheumatic fever and was advised to avoid strenuous physical activities. However, as his high school required participation in athletic competitions, he started training in sprint in 1924 and by 1927 became a local champion.

Olympic competition[edit]

Williams hoisted aloft by Phil Edwards (left) and Brant Little after winning the 100 metres at the 1928 Olympics.

At the 1928 Olympic trials, Williams won the 100 and 200 metres races, equaling the Olympic 100 metres record of 10.6 seconds.[4][5]

To earn his travel ticket for the trials, Wiliams and his volunteer coach, Bob Granger, worked as waiters and dishwashers in a dining car, and Vancouver track fans raised the money to pay Granger's transatlantic ship passage to the 1928 Olympics.[5]

In the second round of the 100 metres at Amsterdam, Williams again equaled the Olympic record with a time of 10.6 seconds and did the same in his semi-final, but placed second to Bob McAllister. The final opened with two false starts, first by Wilfred Legg and then one by Frank Wykoff. Williams took the lead off the start and never relinquished it, winning the gold over Jack London with Georg Lammers third. Williams then won the 200 metres two days later, coming from behind to overtake Helmut Körnig, who had led out of the bend. It was Williams's eighth race in four days and he was the first non-American to complete the sprint double.[6][7] Williams was also part of the Canadian team which was disqualified in the final of the 4×100 metre relay contest.[4]

Williams's victories were front-page news in Canada and he returned a national hero, feted by enormous crowds across the country. An estimated 25,000 people turned out to welcome him at the Canadian Pacific Railway station at the foot of Granville Street in Vancouver.[8] Williams was met off the train by Mayor L. D. Taylor and Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie. They bundled him and Granger into cars and paraded them through the confetti-filled city. The event was broadcast live by reporters with microphones stationed along the route.[5]

Williams showed that his success was not an accident, setting a World Record at the Canadian Track and Field Championships at Varsity Stadium in Toronto in 1930. He then won the 100 yard dash at the inaugural British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) in Hamilton, Ontario, but tore the tendons in his upper left leg around the 70 yard mark and never made a full comeback.[9] At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, he was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100 metre event. With the Canadian team he finished fourth in the 4×100 metre relay competition. Subsequently, Williams stopped running and became an insurance agent.[5]

Later life and death[edit]

In August 1940, Williams joined the Non-Permanent Active Militia, his occupation listed as "Salesman" and religion as "C of E" (Church of England). He also served as a civilian pilot during World War II, ferrying aircraft around the country for Canadian Airways, then became a civilian flight instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force.[10]

In 1971, after his former mentor's death, Williams was asked how much credit was due to Granger for his Olympic success. "Offhand, I'd say 100 percent," Williams answered.[10]

In 1980, he donated his two gold medals from the 1928 Olympics to the BC Sports Hall of Fame, saying that he wanted them to be seen and remembered. Within weeks they were stolen. It was said at the time that Williams simply shrugged off the loss and no replacements were ever issued.

In later years, Williams grew bitter about his sporting experiences, culminating in being the only living Canadian Olympic gold medalist who refused the federal government's invitation to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.[11]

In 1979, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.[12]

Williams, who never married, stayed with his mother until her death in 1980, at the age of 92.[5] After that, he lived alone and suffered from arthritic pain. A keen collector of guns, Williams shot himself in the head with a gun he had been awarded in 1928 as a prize for his Olympic feat. His suicide was a surprise to everyone and no note was left.[1] He was interred at Masonic Cemetery of British Columbia, Burnaby, Canada.

Awards and Recognition[edit]

A close up of the statue of Williams outside of BC Place stadium in Vancouver.

In 1950, Williams was proclaimed by a Canadian press poll as Canada's greatest track athlete of the first half of the century. They updated that in 1972 to declare him Canada's all-time greatest Olympic athlete.[13]

Percy Williams Junior Public School located in Scarborough, Ontario, was named after Williams.[14]

In 1996, Canada Post released a postage stamp of Percy Williams as part of its "Sporting Heroes" series.[15]

Outside the BC Sports Hall of Fame at BC Place is a life-sized statue of Williams, crouched in a sprinter's stance.[16]


  1. ^ a b Samuel Hawley, I Just Ran: Percy Williams, World's Fastest Human (Ronsdale Press, 2011), p. 272.
  2. ^ Samuel Hawley. "Percy Williams: Childhood". Archived from the original on 14 June 2018. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  3. ^ "Volume 22: St Johns WESLEYAN METHODIST: George Street Church Baptisms 1882-1891". Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  4. ^ a b Percy Williams Archived 2018-09-17 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ a b c d e Geoff D'Auria (4 August 2012). "Vancouver's Forgotten Track Star". Archived from the original on 7 August 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2012.
  6. ^ "Athletics at the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Games:Men's 100 metres". Archived from the original on 12 July 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  7. ^ "Athletics at the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Games:Men's 200 metres". Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  8. ^ John Mackie (27 April 2017). "Canada 150: Percy Williams, the world's fastest man". Archived from the original on 3 August 2018. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  9. ^ Jamie Bradburn (21 July 2015). "The British Empire Games of 1930". Archived from the original on 31 August 2017. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  10. ^ a b Samuel Hawley. "Percy Williams: Later Life and Today". Archived from the original on 19 June 2018. Retrieved 2 August 2018.
  11. ^ Nick Mason (26 September 2000). "Yesteray's anti-heroes". Archived from the original on 4 September 2018. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  12. ^ Percy A. Williams Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, Order of Canada
  13. ^ Edward S. Sears (23 June 2015). Running Through the Ages, 2d ed. McFarland. pp. 154–. ISBN 978-1-4766-2086-2.
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-08-24. Retrieved 2017-08-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "OTD: Percy Williams born in Vancouver". 19 May 2018. Archived from the original on 4 August 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  16. ^ Rebecca Bollwitt (31 July 2012). "Vancouver History: Percy Williams". Archived from the original on 3 August 2018. Retrieved 3 August 2018.

External links and further reading[edit]