Percy Williams was the very antithesis of the modern day sprinter. While now the muscular, powerful, bulky speedsters prevail, Williams was slight and pale and looked anything but an Olympic champion in the waiting.
When Williams turned up at the Canadian trials in early 1928, not only was he not yet 20 but he had run only a handful of 100m races in his career. However he booked his place on the boat to the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in emphatic style with victories in the 100m and 200m events.
Williams opened in Holland with a standard 11.0 sec win in the opening round of heats but the world and the rest of the field sat up and top took notice of the waif-like Canadian when he equalled the Olympic record of legend Harold Abrahams of 10.6 secs in the second heats. In an incredibly tight set of semis, four men equalled Williams’s mark and commentators felt the favoured runners from the United States and Great Britain would come through in the final.
When the six sprinters settled down at the start line on the uneven, cinder track, there was an expectant hush among the crowd. In his upright starting position, back straight, eyes focused forward, Williams exploded off the line and by 30 metres the race was already in his grasp. As he crossed the line he flung his arms into the air in celebration and won by half a yard in 10.8secs from Britain’s Jack London.
A matter of days later he added the 200m title and news of his victories was greeted with jubilation in his native Vancouver.