OTD: Percy Williams wins gold medal

On today’s date in 1928, Vancouver athlete Percy Williams won the gold medal in the 200-metre sprint while running against the fastest field ever assembled; he would also win the 100-metre race on Aug. 1.

In 1996, Canada Post featured Williams on a 45-cent multi-coloured stamp (Scott # 1612) as part of its Canadian Olympic Gold Medalists issue. The stamps were printed by Ashton-Potter Canada using fluorescent coated paper instead of tagging.

When he was 15 years old, Williams suffered from rheumatic fever and was advised to avoid strenuous physical activity; however, because his high school required participation in athletic competitions, he started training in sprint in 1924. By 1927, he was a local champion, and the following year, at the 1928 Olympic trials, he won both the 100- and 200-metre races, tying the Olympic 100-metre record of 10.6 seconds. He was also part of the Canadian team that was disqualified in the final of the 400-metre relay contest.

Percy Williams won both the 100- and 200-metre runs at the 1928 Olympics.

Percy Williams won both the 100- and 200-metre runs at the 1928 Olympics.

At the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, 27 athletics events were contested. The competition was held on a 400-metre track and would become the standard for athletics tracks in future Games. What’s more, that year, for the first time ever, women’s events in athletics were included in the Games. There were a total of 706 participants from 40 countries competing in the athletics events. Canada took home four gold medals, including Williams’, and placed third behind Finland’s five golds and America’s nine golds.

Williams continued to triumph, winning the 100-yard dash at the inaugural British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) in Hamilton, Ont. and setting a world record in Toronto in 1930.

Unfortunately, at the British Empire Games, Williams suffered a pulled thigh muscle and never made a full comeback. At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, he was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 100-metre event.

Williams lived with his mother until she died in 1977, after which he lived alone and in pain, suffering from arthritis. A collector of guns, Williams shot himself in the head with a gun he had been awarded for his 1928 Olympic feat.

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