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.


percy williams controversy
Percy's decision to drop out of the University of British Columbia after just one term and go on a tour of indoor track meets in the eastern US caused a storm of controversy in Vancouver. The city had raised a $15,000 "Percy Williams Memorial Fund" to ensure that he stayed in his home town and wasn't lured to the States. Upon learning of Percy's plans, the custodian of the fund, George Harrison, went so far as to publicly declare that Percy had to "come clean" as to his intentions -- the suspicion being that he was planning to turn professional to cash in on his fame. The accusation incensed Percy and moved him to uncharacteristic anger. ( Vancouver Sunday Province, December 9, 1928, author's collection)

percy williams 1929
A studio portrait of Percy taken at the time of his 1929 tour of track meets in the eastern US. There were those who believed that his Olympic wins were a fluke and that he would fail miserably at this new challenge. Percy himself didn't hold out too much hope. Running extremely short distances indoors required a specialized talent and was not something he was used to. (Percy Williams Collection, hereafter PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams diary
Percy kept a diary for much of 1929. On these two pages, for January 16 and 17, he recounts leaving Vancouver by train, en route to Toronto and then to Boston and the start of his indoor track tour. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams diary 1929
In several places in his diary Percy reverts to shorthand, presumably to keep what he had written secret, perhaps from his mother. Here he writes: "Went to the Armories then to the Royal Connaught [Hotel]. Heard some great stories all about...." I never did figure out what comes next in shorthand. Can you decipher it? If so, drop me a line at samuelhawley[at] (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams boston herald
A cartoon from the Boston Herald about Percy's upcoming indoor race at the Boston Athletic Association Games on February 2, 1929. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

One of percy williams boston 40 yard dash
"Percy Does it Again." An editorial cartoon from the Vancouver Daily Province, February 4, 1929, about Percy's first win on his US indoor meet tour, in the 40-yard dash in Boston on February 2, 1929. It was starting to look like there would be crow for dinner for those who had said his Olympic wins were a fluke. (author's collection)

percy williams usa indoor tour 1929
Another editorial cartoon, this one from the Vancouver Sun, February 9, 1929, after Percy's second indoor triumph at the Newark Athletic Club meet in New York. (author's collection)

bob granger percy williams millrose games
Bob Granger accompanied Percy as his coach on the indoor track circuit and sent dispatches back home to the Vancouver Province. This one is about the biggest challenge Percy would face on the tour: the upcoming Millrose Games in New York on Saturday, February 9, 1929. (author's collection)

percy williams diary 1929
Percy's diary. The last entry for February 6, 1929 reads "Really scared of Sat. nite," a reference to the upcoming Millrose Games. (Percy would go on to win there as well.) On the page for February 7 he writes of winning at a meet in Newark. The bit about the "awful starter. Holds too long" is a reference to his nemesis Johnny McHugh, the starter at a number of the indoor meets Percy ran in. Percy and Bob both were convinced that McHugh was purposefully trying to throw off Percy's starts by pausing for an extra-long time before firing the gun. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams mcqueen
A cable sent to Percy by Pat Mulqueen (misspelled here as "McQueen") urging him not to add too many engagements to his tour schedule. As Percy continued to amass wins on the indoor track circuit, his supporters back in Canada became increasingly alarmed that he was taking on too much and would start losing and sully his record. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams vancouver athletic club
Percy, wearing the Vancouver Athletic Club crest, at one of his many indoor meet appearances in February-March 1929. (City of Toronto Archives)

Percy Williams Dominion Chocolate sports card
Percy Williams sports card collectible put out by the Dominion Chocolate Company of Toronto  in 1929, "No. 34 of a complete NEW series of 60 Canadian athletes." Percy was well out of high school by this time, despite what the card says.

percy williams breaks 40 metre record
A front-page report from the Vancouver Province, February 17, 1929, on Percy's latest indoor triumph: a victory at a meet in Brooklyn, beating big-talking Bob McAllister and in the process setting a new record over 60 metres. In his attached disptach Bob Granger takes particular delight in Percy's defeat of McAllister, the "Bowery Cop." "Now let it be known," Bob writes, "that the aforesaid Mr. McAllister is probably -- very probably -- sportdom's biggest cackler..." (author's collection)

percy williams graham bruce 1929
Tension back in Vancouver is mounting: A cable from Percy's old Commerce High coach, Graham Bruce, dated February 18, 1929, urging him to break off his US tour and come home to "avoid possible nervous exhaustion with possible disastrous results or losses." (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams tour of guts
Canadian anxiety that Percy was competing too much is expressed in this editorial cartoon of a slick meet promoter coaxing Percy to appear in "just one more little race." (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

percy williams loup garou
An editorial cartoon from the Vancouver Sun, February 25, 1929, suggesting the Percy was being milked by the US amateur track establishment as a ticket-selling attraction. "Loup garou" was one of the many nicknames coined for Percy. It was the Toronto Star's Lou Marsh who came up with it, a reference to the mythical werewolf said to live in the woods of Quebec, so fast that you could barely see it flit by through the trees. (author's collection)

bob granger cable percy williams
Bob Granger's cable to Percy and Jimmy Ball in Hamilton, February 25, 1929, trying to get them to appear in a star-studded indoor meet he was trying to organize for Vancouver. The endeavor fell through and cost Bob some money -- a possible contributing factor to the breakup between him and Percy that followed. (PWC, BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum)

bob granger climbing olympus
The first installment of the daily serial Bob Granger wrote about his and Percy's Olympic adventure, entitled "Climbing Olympus." By the time it was published in the Vancouver Sun (July 13 to August 3, 1929), Bob and Percy had had a falling out as Percy strove for independence. (author's collection)

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copyright   2011 Samuel Hawley