Percy Williams: World’s Fastest Human

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Percy Williams died on November 29, 1982. I reckon his life and his death is worth writing about, because in these days of super-charged Olympic athletes, Percy was truly unique.

The following is an excerpt from At Home with History

Percy Williams, world's fastest human
1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games, CVA 99-3633

Percy Williams was born in 1908 and spent a good chunk of his life on West 12th Avenue in Mount Pleasant.

Percy Williams: World's fastest human

Percy Williams lived at 196 West 12th from 1928 to 1940

He was a scrawny kid, standing just 5’6” and weighing 110 pounds. He had a bad heart from childhood rheumatic fever.

He was 18 when he was “discovered” while attending King Edward High School.

His coach, Bob Granger, later told a reporter that he took Percy on after he tied a race with his sprint champion in 1926. “It violated every known principle of the running game,” he said.

Granger had interesting training techniques. His idea of a warm up was having Percy lie on the dressing table under a pile of blankets. Another was making him run flat out into a mattress propped up against a wall.

Unorthodox maybe, but Percy kept winning.

Percy Williams: World's fastest human
Percy Williams #667

By 1928, he’d bulked up to 125 pounds. That was the year he brought home two gold medals for the 200 and 100 metre sprints at the Amsterdam Olympics.

The newspapers dubbed him “Peerless Percy,” and he returned to Vancouver to a welcome from 40,000 people. Kids got the day off school and one firm came out with an “Our Percy” chocolate bar.

Percy Williams: World's fastest human
Percy Williams in 1928 CVA 99-3637

He was a reluctant star though, and when a leg injury ended his track career in 1932, he seemed relieved. He told a reporter: “Oh, I was so glad to get out of it all.”

By 1935, the public had forgotten all about him, and city directories show him working as a salesman for Armstrong and Laing. Later he ran an insurance business.

He held onto his record for the 200-metre dash for 32 years—when another Vancouver boy, Harry Jerome set a new record in 1959.

In 1982, suffering from arthritis, he shot himself in the head in his West End bathtub.

Also see: When Harry met Percy, a post of the meeting between two great athletes Percy Williams and Harry Jerome.

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus. 

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6 comments

  1. One query:
    I’ve several times passed a memorial plaque on Manitoba, just below Major Matthews Park. I know it’s dedicated to a successful Vancouver athlete… is it Percy Williams? I’ve always intended to photograph it but somehow haven’t.

  2. A very interesting story . I’ve heard the name many times but did not know the story behind his success. I enjoy reading your articles.

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