percy williams olympic gold medal 1928


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Samuel Hawley is a writer of narrative nonfiction and fiction. His books are highly eclectic. He has written about 16th-century East Asian history, 19th-century Korean-American relations, Olympic sprinting and land speed racing and a circus elephant named Topsy who was electrocuted in 1903. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.


letter bobby gual percy williams
The first page of a gushing letter Percy's friend Bobby Gaul wrote him after Percy won his two gold medals: "Dear Perce: Mother sent me up to do some French but I found something far better to do, ie. write to the worlds greatest sprinter of all times, a darn nice fellow, a Hexamis, and a friend, all in one. I saw your picture as the Canadian team in London were cheering you on the steps of some building. Gee but it looked pretty good to see all those fine fellows, wearing their Mapel-leaves, honouring the worlds champion. It looked better to me to see old Bob's face as he watched you. It literally beamed with glad pride of you..." (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams cheer
This is the photo Bobby Gaul refers to in his letter above, of Percy's teammates giving him a cheer--and Percy looking decidedly awkward. On this copy of the shot, from Percy's own collection, someone (Percy himself?) has written "Bronx Cheer!" That's Doral Pilling (hand raised) and Bob Granger on the left, and Jimmy Ball and Cap Cornleius (mustache) on right. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams vancouver star
A cartoon about Percy from the Vancouver Star, August 2, 1928. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams canadian speedboy
An editorial cartoon from the Vancouver Star: "Percy Williams, Canadian Speedboy." (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams olympic champion
Another of the many cartoons about Percy that appeared in newspapers across Canada. This one, from a Vancouver paper, includes Bob Granger (upper right) and a swipe at American universities for wanting to recruit Percy. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams modern mercury
Percy Williams, "Modern Mercury." As was so often the case with these Canadian editorial cartoons, the attitude towards Americans was not always too gracious. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams jimmy ball airplane
After finishing competition in Amsterdam, a few members of the Canadian team were sent to Paris to appear in what was billed as a "mini Olympic" track meet. The flight across the English Channel was a terrifying ordeal of turbulence and vomiting and an emergency landing in a French field. Here, safe on the ground, Percy (left) clowns around with Jimmy Ball. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams paris postcard
Percy's souvenir postcard from the Paris excursion, signed by the other team members who made the memorable trip.  The inscriptions: "Nearer heaven than usual. Alex Wilson"; "Yours sky high! Myrtle Cook"; "Home was never like this! Florence Bell"; "A good place for a warm summer day. Phil Edwards [referring presumably to the French field where the plane was forced down]" "Jas. A Ball: A few thousand feet over the English Channel. Damn the air jackets! Aug. 15/28"; "Me too Jim! John Fitzpatrick" "Me too you also. Ethel Catherwood." (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams london doral pilling
Percy (center) with Doral Pilling of Calgary (left) and Stanley Glover of Edmonton having fun during a spare hour in London. Percy, feeling like an outsider on an Olympic team dominated by Ontario athletes, gravitated to fellow Westerners Doral and Stan and Harry Warren. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

bob granger oxford job offer
Percy was "inundated with US offers" after his double-gold Olympic performance, as described in this article from the Vancouver Daily Province, August 18, 1928. Such reports made Vancouverites anxious to do everything they could to encourage him to stay in his home town. Bob Granger also received one or two attractive offers, including  a coaching job offer from Oxford University. He turned it down, affirming that he intended to return to Vancouver. (author's collection)

ss doric menu percy williams
Dinner menu from the steamer Doric that was carrying the Canadian Olympic team home, September 1, 1928, each dish named after a team member. Main course: "Supreme of Chicken la WILLIAMS." Bob Granger got the potatoes. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy and charlotte williams
The people of Vancouver raised funds to send Percy's mother Charlotte east to meet him upon his return from Europe. They would make the triumphal journey home to Vancouver together. Here they are in Toronto. (City of Toronto Archives)

percy williams vancouver homecoming
Coverage of Percy's Vancouver homecoming in the Vancouver Star, September 15, 1928. The woman pictured at upper right is Percy's grandmother, Selina Rhodes. She had had a premonition he would win at the Olympics. (author's collection)

percy williams automobile
Percy posing with the Graham-Paige coupe that was presented to him as a gift from the City of Vancouver on the day of his return, September 14, 1928. He would call the coupe his "Jezebel." (City of Vancouver Archives)

vancouver major taylor
Mayor L.D. Taylor congratulating Percy on the stage of the Vancouver Opera House, one of the whirlwind of public appearances Percy was obliged to make upon his return home. (City of Vancouver Archives)

percy williams champion of the world
An example from the great mass of fan mail that Percy received following his triumphant return to Vancouver. This envelope was addressed simply to "The Champion of the World, Vancouver, Canada." (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams harry warren
One of the few things written by Percy that was ever published was characteristically not about himself at all, but about his friend Harry Warren, who had been an alternate on the Canadian Olympic team in 1928. This article appeared in the University of British Columbia student newspaper Ubysseygrad in the autumn of 1928, during Percy's single term there as a student. (courtesy Charlotte Warren)

percy williams lyon williams seattle
Percy with his uncle Lyon Rhodes (his mother Charlotte's brother) in Seattle shortly after his return from Amsterdam. Lyon had settled in Seattle years before, giving Percy a family connection to that city. (author's collection)

percy williams seattle
Percy's firsthand account in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 19, 1928, of his Olympic races. "When they announced that I was to face the European champion [Koernig] and the American champion [Borah] in my heat [in the 200 metres] my coach Granger just ran around in circles and kept piling on the coats and blankets, which he said warmed me up and yet conserved my energy. I will never forget that race." (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

frank wykoff fake percy williams 1928
Following Percy's rise to stardom, businessmen and hucksters all across North America wanted him to appear at their events and promote their products. Here a fake "Percy Williams" appears with the very real Frank Wykoff at a roller skating rink event in Glendale, California in the fall of 1928. (

samuel hawley i just ran percy williams worlds fastest human

copyright 2011 Samuel Hawley