Percy Williams

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full namePercy Alfred•Williams
Used namePercy•Williams
Born19 May 1908 in Vancouver, British Columbia (CAN)
Died29 November 1982 in Vancouver, British Columbia (CAN)
Measurements170 cm / 56 kg
AffiliationsVancouver AC, Vancouver (CAN)
NOC Canada
Medals OG
Gold 2
Silver 0
Bronze 0
Total 2


Canadian Percy Williams was always an underdog to have any sort of athletic career, much less to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games. Already a slight boy, he was afflicted with rheumatic fever at the age of fifteen and instructed by his doctors to avoid demanding physical activities. Nevertheless, he took up running in 1924, as athletic competition was mandated by his high school, and, by 1927, he was becoming well-known in his native Vancouver for participating in – and winning – local running events. He worked as a waiter and dishwasher in a dining car to earn his passage to Hamilton, Ontario where the trials for the 1928 Summer Olympics were being held. Despite having never taken part in a competitive 100 metre race, he won it in a time of 10.6 seconds, equaling the Olympic record. With a subsequent victory in the 200 metre event he was guaranteed a spot on the Canadian delegation.

Williams did not disappoint: he twice equaled the Olympic record during the 100 and easily captured the gold medal in the final. His victory came as such a surprise to the international community that the medal presentation was delayed while Olympic administrators scrambled to find a recording of the Canadian anthem to play. Offered the chance by Canadian officials to drop out of the 200 because of his success, he declined and went on to capture that title as well. He again had the opportunity to be replaced, this time in the 4×100 relay, but decided to press on. His luck did not hold out, however, and the Canadian team was disqualified after his teammate Buck Hester dropped the baton while attempting to pass it Williams.

There was still more gold in his future, however, and he captured the 100 yard dash at the inaugural British Empire Games in 1930. Several days prior he had set a world in the 100 metres by becoming the first person to run the distance in 10.3 seconds, a feat that would not be equaled for nearly two years nor beaten for almost six. It was to be the end of his athletic career, however, as he pulled a muscle during the British Empire Games and was never able to regain his former glory. He competed in the 100 metre event and the sprint relay at the 1932 Summer Olympics, but he failed to medal in either category and retired soon thereafter. He then led a low-key life as an insurance salesman, never marrying, and committed suicide in 1982 after suffering from depression and chronic arthritic pain. In 1950 a Canadian Press poll named him the greatest national track and field performer of the last fifty years and upgraded him to “Canada’s All-Time Olympic athlete” in 1972. In 1978 he was bestowed the Vancouver Civic Recognition Award and in 1980 he was made a member of the Order of Canada. He is enshrined in both the British Columbia and Canadian Sports Halls of Fame.

Personal Bests: 100y – 9.6 (1929/30/32); 100 – 10.3 (1930); 200 – 21.7 (1929).


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1928 Summer Olympics Athletics CAN Percy Williams
100 metres, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
200 metres, Men (Olympic) 1 Gold
4 × 100 metres Relay, Men (Olympic) Canada AC r2/2
1932 Summer Olympics Athletics CAN Percy Williams
100 metres, Men (Olympic) 4 h1 r3/4
200 metres, Men (Olympic) DNS
4 × 100 metres Relay, Men (Olympic) Canada 4

Special Notes