How Percy Williams swept the Olympic sprints

The Vancouver schoolboy outsped the world's top runners and became the toast of Canada. When injury ended his career everyone mourned - except Williams. Why? Because "I didn't like running"

RAY GARDNER November 24 1956

How Percy Williams swept the Olympic sprints

The Vancouver schoolboy outsped the world's top runners and became the toast of Canada. When injury ended his career everyone mourned - except Williams. Why? Because "I didn't like running"

RAY GARDNER November 24 1956
On July 30, 1928, in Amsterdam, Percy Williams, a runner who a few weeks before had won the sprints at the Vancouver high schools’ sports day, startled the world by winning the hundred-metre event at the Olympic Games.

Two days later, Williams, just turned twenty and so light of build he was described as delicate, won the two-hundred-metre sprint to become the sensation of the ninth modern Olympiad. They called him the World’s Fastest Human.

Never before or since has any but a United States runner won both Olympic sprints, the classic events of the Games. Two United States runners had done it before: Archie Hahn, in 1904, and Ralph Craig, in 1912. Two have done it since, Eddie Tolan, in 1932, and Jesse Owens, in 1936.

But only Percy Williams sprinted out of obscurity to do it. It was a triumph that stands today as Canada’s brightest moment in Olympic Games history—-perhaps in all the annals of Canadian sport.

There have been other great achievements recorded by Canadian athletes—Jimmy McLarnin's winning of the world's welterweight boxing championship, Barbara Ann Scott’s world and Olympic figure skating victory, Marilyn Bell's triumph over Lake Ontario. But none has so thrilled the Canadian people — and held the centre of world attention — as did Williams’ incredible sweep at Amsterdam, twenty-eight years ago.

Forty thousand spectators in Amsterdam’s new Olympic Stadium went wild as the lithe Canadian breasted the tape in the two hundred metres to become a double champion. The Canadian athletes were almost hysterical with excitement. The British, South Africans and Australians were in an uproar. To them it was a triumph of Empire.

In Canada the victory inspired a national rejoicing that wasn’t to subside until weeks later when Williams crossed the country in triumph, lionized in Quebec, Montreal, Hamilton, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and finally Vancouver.

No other Canadian has ever taken the country by storm as did Percy Williams in those September days of 1928. His youth, his modesty and his achievement touched the national pride. The picture of Percy standing at ease and wearing his white track suit, the Maple Leaf emblem and “Canada” across his chest, became familiar to every Canadian who even glanced at a newspaper. “The day Percy Williams came home” is still recalled in Vancouver with a nostalgic sigh.

They shut down the schools and thirty thousand children were part of the great crowd that welcomed “Vancouver’s Lindbergh”—as all the newspapers called him. The crowd “hailed him like a Caesar,” the Vancouver Daily Province noted. From the Roman Empire to the Age of Flight was the gamut the newspapers ran in praise of Percy. The city gave him a sporty blue Graham-Paige coupe. Money (eventually $14,500) poured into a trust fund to provide for his education. Kids munched Our Percy chocolate bars, the product of a swift-moving Edmonton candy merchant.

What had thrilled the crowd at Amsterdam, made Williams world famous, and in Canada a national idol, was the marvel of an unknown runner not only winning a double Olympic championship, but defeating one of the most brilliant fields of sprinters the Games had ever seen.

Only Percy Williams himself was able to take his victory calmly. He sat on his cot in Amsterdam’s third-rate Holland Hotel and recorded in the pocket diary he had kept for his mother his own impressions of victory and the first rewards of fame:

August 1—Well, it’s done. Won the 200 M. Not so bad. Telegrams galore. The girls’ team sent flowers to me. Hot dog! McAllister, Paddock, Scholz, Borah and Wykoff all congratulated me.

Bob McAllister, Charlie Paddock, Jackson V. Scholz, Charles Borah and Frank Wykoff were the fastest and by far the most famous runners of the day. They were the United States stars rated by everyone a cinch to win the sprints. In four days the unknown Canadian had met and beaten them all. Paddock said of the Canadian who outran him that “the world has never seen a greater competitive sprinter,” and Will Rogers, the reigning humorist, suggested annexing Canada to acquire Williams.

Williams’ times were not record-breaking, they were even considered slow: 10.8 seconds for the hundred metres and 21.8 seconds for the two hundred metres. The Olympic records then were 10.6 for the hundred (which he had equaled in winning a heat) and 21.6 for the two hundred. But this was of no real account for Williams’ strategy always was to beat the man, not the clock. Trained to a razor’s edge, Williams weighed only 126 pounds, the lightest runner ever to win an Olympic sprint. After his victory in the 100, they said he’d never last out the grueling preliminary heats of the 200. In fact, the great Paddock declared that “it seemed impossible for that skinny little sprinter to do it.” Yet in four days Williams ran eight races, winning six and placing second in two.

His rout of the favorites was so stunning a blow that General Douglas MacArthur, then president of the United States Olympic Committee, felt it necessary to make a public explanation. Only once before had the United States failed to win at least one of the two sprints and never since have they failed to win both. “The Canadian, Percy Williams,” said MacArthur, “is the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen and he will be even greater before his career is ended.”

He did run faster races—in 1930 he set a new world’s record of 10.3 seconds for the hundred metres—but he never won greater glory than in those four days at Amsterdam.

The first Canadian to reach Williarh*., as he flung himself across the finish line in the two hundred metres was Bobby Kerr, of Hamilton, who himself had won the event at the 1908 Olympics. (Kerr and Williams arc the only non-U. S. runners ever to take the race.) “Won’t Granger be pleased.” Williams gasped. A few hours later he told the droves of reporters who sought him out, “Whatever I’ve done has been through my coach, Bub Granger.”

It was not a routine tribute to a helper. Williams meant it literally. For just as Jimmy McLarnin had the cagey manager Pop Foster behind him, and Marilyn Bell owes much of her success to coach Gus Ryder, so Percy Williams had his Bob Granger. Even today, more than a quarter of a century later, Williams says emphatically: “Granger was everything. Everything.”

A florid man with flaming red hair and a freckled face, Granger was thirtythree years old when he first saw Percy Williams run in the spring of 1926. Percy was then eighteen, to Granger “a puny 110-pound kid.” Some time that same year he decided the boy would win the 1928 Olympics. It was a decision, not a dream.

Dr. Harry Warren, now professor of geology at the University of British Columbia, knows the Granger-Williams story as well as anyone. Trained by Granger, Warren was Canada’s reserve sprinter at Amsterdam and was one of three athletes who shared a small hotel room with Percy. The United States team lived aboard the chartered luxury liner President Roosevelt.

“Granger was unique,” says Dr. Warren. “And so, in his way, was Percy. Percy’s victory was a blending of these two amazing personalities. Granger knew that Percy would win the Olympics. He told me so in 1926. He was absolutely sure of it. Percy didn’t love running—Granger drove him to it. Percy was a delicate boy and Granger wouldn’t let him out of his sight for a minute if he could help it.

V. L. (Pinky) Stewart, a Vancouver advertising executive who, as a runner, was also trained by Granger, says, “He had Percy obsessed with the idea of winning the Olympics. He mesmerized him.”

Born in New Westminster, B.C., of Scottish parents, Granger himself had excelled at rugby and swimming and was a fair track man. When his own playing days were over, he devoted all of his time, energy and whatever little money he had to developing schoolboy athletes.

Oblivious to all else in life, Granger studied every technique of coaching and conditioning athletes, especially sprinters. He had a library of books on the subject, but he went beyond what the books taught to evolve his own theories. At Amsterdam the Swedish trainers were astounded by his knowledge of muscle therapy. Stewart says, “He was a genius in his own field.” No detail escaped him. In his day sprinters didn’t use starting blocks, as they do today, but dug their own starting holes with a trowel. Granger experimented endlessly until he discovered the ideal specifications—depth and angle—for starting holes.

“He was like a tin god to us kids,” Stewart recalls. “He could hold us spellbound for hours with his stories about track. He’d say to a youngster, 'Well, you’re a regular little Charlie Paddock.’ And the boy would be walking on air for hours. Bob was a voracious eater—he could devour any number of steaks. Yet he’d go without eating to buy a youngster a pair of track shoes.” On a trip to New York with Williams after the Olympics Granger blew several days’ expense money to buy a rowing machine for one of his young athletes.

In 1926 Granger was coaching rugby and track at Vancouver’s King George High School. One of his proteges was Wally Scott, the city sprint champion. The students at King Edward High had promoted a match race between their star, Percy Williams, and Scott. Granger was amazed to see Percy run his own champion to a dead heat. Granger later commented that he had never seen worse style in a boy who could run like Williams did. “I think he violated every known principle of the running game,” said the coach. “He ran with his arms glued to his sides. It actually made me tired to watch him.”

From the summer of 1926 till the eve of the Olympics Granger slaved over Williams to perfect his starting and running form. Day after day, in spring and summer, Granger got a group of boys together and had them demonstrate starts and arm motion. Mostly, Percy just watched — and learned. Granger called this “visualization.” It was a way of conserving the boy’s energy. At home, Percy practiced by the hour before a mirror. He did setting-up exercises to strengthen stomach and chest muscles. His hands were developed to give him an extra spring off the mark.

Even so. Granger always maintained that his runner didn’t master the correct arm movement in his starts until the day before the Games were to open. Whenever it happened, Williams did become the fastest starter of his time. After the Olympics he was unbeatable in short dashes, forty to sixty-five yards, where a rocket-like start meant everything.

At fifteen Percy had been stricken by rheumatic fever and, the doctors said, left with a damaged heart. He was even warned to avoid excitement. In any case, he was extremely light and far from robust. His Amsterdam weight was 126 pounds, compared with Paddock’s 175 pounds and McAllister’s 170.

While heavier runners might work themselves into condition, Granger took infinite pains to bring Williams slowly up to racing pitch. He spoke of the boy’s "precious energy.” On a cold day, he would rub Percy before a race with cocoa butter and dress him in as many as three track suits and four sweaters to prevent loss of body heat (“precious energy”). He concocted an amazing variety of rubdown lotions. One was a mixture of olive oil, wintergreen and liniment. He gave him Finnish massages and Swedish massages. Granger’s own account, in Climbing Olympus, of rest cures in the hills, of mending the boy’s injured knee and resting his over-fast heart reads like a chapter from “Famous Stories in Medicine.”

To Granger, psychology was as vital as muscular therapy in his campaign to make Williams an Olympic champion. And so he set out to make the boy as confident of victory as he himself was. He called him the Vancouver Gazelle, after the world’s fastest beast, and continually showed him how his times were beginning to compare with those of the world’s fastest men.

Once—in August 1927—he arranged an exhibition race in which, he announced, Williams would attempt to break the famed Paddock’s world record of 17.8 seconds for 175 yards. It was a smart piece of promotion, intended to draw a crowd and so raise money for a trip to an eastern track meet, but Granger also had something else in mind. Actually, no record was officially recognized for 175 yards. Paddock, a clever showman as well as a fast sprinter, often ran freak distances simply to be able to claim a new record. Granger deliberately picked this ersatz record because he knew it would be easier to beat than any of Paddock’s authentic marks. Breaking a world’s record, no matter how artificial it might be, would bolster Percy’s confidence. As Granger had foreseen, Percy beat Paddock’s time—by a whole second. And, in appreciation, the crowd donated $160.

Granger succeeded in making track enthusiasts of the boy’s family and had them dreaming of Olympic victories. Percy, an only child, lived with his mother, Mrs. Charlotte Williams, who worked as a theatre cashier, and her parents. Williams has always been extremely devoted to his mother and even during the Olympics wrote her every other day.

In the spring and summer of 1927 and the spring of 1928, Granger kept Williams running—and winning—in every local meet. He ran what were, for a schoolboy, some remarkable times: 9.9 seconds for the hundred yards, 22 seconds for the two-twenty. In June 1928 he took his first stride toward Amsterdam by winning the British Columbia Olympic trials. He tied the Olympic record of 10.6 seconds for the hundred metres, running against a breeze and on a grass track that dipped up and down like a roller coaster.

On June 15, a throng of track enthusiasts and relatives saw Percy and the coast athletes off to Hamilton and Canadian Olympic trials. Williams recorded it in his diary:

June 15—Was there a crowd to see us off? Boy, and how! I only hope it will be for a good reason.

Broke, Granger was left behind. But a couple of days later he was on his way east as a pantry boy on a CPR diner.

Percy Williams became the unexpected star of the Hamilton trials. Against a field of topnotch Canadian sprinters, most of them trained in American colleges, he won the 100 metres in 10.6 seconds, again equaling the Olympic record, and the 200 metres in 22 seconds.

June 30—Well, the day of miracles is not passed. I can’t quite understand yet but they say winning the 100 metres puts me on the boat for Amsterdam.

But it didn’t put Granger on the boat. In response to urgent appeals from Granger, Percy’s mother canvassed all over Vancouver trying to raise money for the coach's ocean passage.

The Canadian Olympic team—and Granger's luggage—sailed from Montreal on July 11 aboard the liner Albertic. As the ship neared Quebec a search was made for a stowaway. Granger appeared at Quebec to retrieve his luggage —he had reached there, he wrote later, "by other means than the St. Lawrence River.” The Albertic left without him but the next day money arrived and he sailed on a CPR freighter, the SS Minnedosa. (Legend has it Granger worked his way over on a cattle boat.)

The crossing was painful for Granger. He had counted on nine days at sea to perfect Percy’s starts. Eventually he reached Amsterdam and, in Percy's room at the Holland Hotel, he drilled the youth in his starting. A mattress was placed against one wall, as a buffer, and Percy would take off from across the room. The management, not sharing Granger’s obsession, objected. But nevertheless it was there in the Holland Hotel, so Granger said, that the World's Fastest Human learned how to get off the mark in a hurry.

Forty thousand people jammed the Olympic Stadium and another seventy thousand milled around outside on the day of the opening ceremonies. The Finnish athletes, including the mighty Paavo Nurmi, had to scale a wall to get in. The largest company of athletes in Olympic history—3,905—from forty-five nations marched past as Prince Consort Hendrik took the salute. A thousand pigeons, signifying peace and goodwill, were released, cannons roared, and the fire was lighted on Marathon Tower. That night Williams wrote in his diary:

July 28—The big opening. Spectacular? Boy, I'll say so. Speeches, parade, pigeons, etc. Took a picture I wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t so bad. It happens tomorrow.

On Sunday, July 29, Percy Williams began his dash to glory. Eighty-seven sprinters were entered in the hundred metres. The overwhelming favorite was Frank Wykoff, an eighteen-year-old Californian schoolboy who four times had tied the Olympic record and had beaten Paddock in a race billed as “the sprint of the century.” Should Wykoff fail, there was Bob McAllister, the Flying Bowery Cop, and Claude Bracey, pride of Rice University. These three were specializing in the hundred-metre while other U. S. runners were saved for the two-hundred-metre.

Percy Williams won his first heat easily, in 11 seconds, but was forced to run his fastest race of the Games, 10.6 seconds, to win his second heat and enter the semifinals. His diary entry showed extreme modesty:

July 29—My ideals of the Olympic Games are all shot. I always imagined it was a game of heroes. Well, I’m in the semifinals myself so it can’t be so hot.

At 2 p.m. on Monday, July 30, Bob Granger suffered a moment of supreme anguish when, for a split second, Williams was caught on his haunches at the start of the hundred-metre semifinal. He recovered brilliantly to finish four inches behind McAllister who had to equal the Olympic record to win. Second place qualified Williams for the final.

There were now two hours to kill before the final. Granger took Williams to the dressing room and gave him a book to read. As race time neared, Percy warmed up, and then Granger rubbed him down with the last precious piece of the cocoa butter he had brought from Canada.

“Keep calm, it’s only another Sunday school race,” he told the boy.

When they lined up for the hundredmetre final the young Canadian was dwarfed by the brawny Bob McAllister and Jack London, a two-hundred-pound British Negro. Frank Wykoff, George Lammers, of Germany, and Wilfred Legg, of South Africa, completed the field.

Thousands of Germans in the stands gave a mighty cheer for Lammers. The Canadians began to chant, “Williams, Canada! Williams, Canada!” and some of the crowd, perhaps taken by his size, joined in.

There were two false starts—first Legg broke, then Wykoff. Each time the crowd surged to its feet, then subsided again. The third start was perfect. Williams shot away with the gun, the rest on his heels. With thirty metres to go, Williams was still in front. Then London made a valiant effort to catch him, but missed by a yard. Lammers was third, Wykoff fourth, Legg fifth and McAllister sixth and last.

The stadium was in a riot. Granger, who later described the race as “ten seconds of breathless living,” wept. P. J. Mulqueen, the Canadian Olympic chairman, rushed on the field and kissed the winner.

July 30—Well, well, well. So I’m supposed to be the World’s 100 M Champion. (Crushed apples.) No more fun in running now.

Now began two days of grueling running in the two hundred metres. The favorite was the flaxen-haired California Comet, Charles Borah, who had won the United States trials in 21.6 seconds, equaling the Olympic record. To back him up, the United States had the veteran Paddock and Jackson V. Scholz, who had won the two hundred metres in the 1924 Games in the record time of 21.6. Germany had a strong contender in Helmut Koernig, an almost flawless runner.

Williams wasn’t conceded a chance against these fresh, more experienced and, on the record, faster runners. His best time, 22 seconds, was two-fifths of a second off their pace. What no one could know was that Granger’s tactics and Williams’ “gear shift”—a unique ability to change running styles while in full flight—would single out Borah and Koernig, one at a time, and kill them off.

The secret of Williams’ success—as Paddock, after Granger, was the first to perceive—was this ability to switch styles while running. Williams would take off with a driving start and keep driving until he had reached his maximum speed. Then he would shift into an easy, flowing style, a sort of overdrive. Near the finish, as his speed diminished, he would drive again, hitting the tape at top speed. “It was,” Williams explains today, “like pedaling a bike downhill. There was no use trying to go faster, it would break my stride to try.” (In 1929 Dr. Charles Best, of the University of Toronto, famous as co-discoverer with Sir Frederick Banting of insulin, conducted experiments on Williams. He found that in a seventy-yard dash the runner reached his maximum speed of 23.3 miles per hour at forty-five to fifty yards. This was the result of Williams’ great driving start.)

On Tuesday, July 31, Williams romped through his first heat of the two hundred metres and was resting in his dressing room when Harry Warren burst in with the news that, by luck of the draw, Borah, Koernig and Williams, with three others, were drawn to run in the next heat.

“I can still remember my horror,” says Warren. “It meant that one of these three great runners was to be eliminated even before the semifinals. Only the first two would qualify.”

Granger gave Williams his instructions. “Don’t try to win,” he said. “Run to beat whoever is running second. Borah or Koernig.” Then, to make the boy perspire without exertion, he smothered him under a pile of a dozen coats and blankets.

Koernig, the pride of Germany, flashed out in front from the start of the race, with Borah on his trail. At the halfway mark Williams was running third, four yards behind Borah. It was then that Williams, already traveling at top speed, tried to drive himself faster too soon. Momentarily he faltered, almost breaking his stride, and dropped farther behind. With sixty metres to go it appeared impossible for him to catch Borah. Now he shifted gears again — and this time moved smoothly into his drive, flashing past Borah in the last two yards. Driven by Borah and Williams, Koernig had equaled the Olympic mark of 21.6 in winning.

July 31—Miracles still happen. I’m in the semifinals. Eliminated Borah. One of the nicest fellows I have ever met. Ran two heats today. First one was easy. 2nd one against Borah and German champ.

Granger, who had watched every race in agony, was now beside himself. He spent the night in the corridor outside Williams' room. At intervals he slipped notes under the door to Williams’ roommate, Harry Warren. Percy had a habit of pulling the covers over his face as he slept—Warren was to pull them down. "He must have oxygen!” Granger wrote. In another note he asked, “Is he breathing easily?”

The afternoon of Wednesday, August 1, Williams won his semifinal race easily, with Paddock fourth. Only two years before Percy had shown his mother a picture of Paddock displayed in a Vancouver gas station and had told her, “There is the world’s fastest human.”

Now only one race stood between Percy Williams and a double Olympic championship. When they lined up for the final of the two hundred metres, Williams faced Koernig and Jacob Schuller, of Germany; John Fitzpatrick, a Canadian from Hamilton; Jackson Scholz, of the United States, the 1924 champion; and Walter Rangeley, of Great Britain.

Even before Amsterdam, Granger knew almost all there was to know about all the internationally known sprinters. Now, at Amsterdam, he had studied them in the flesh until, as Williams remarks today, “He even knew who their grandfathers were.”

“Koernig is your man to beat,” he told Williams. “He is a front runner— an inspirational runner—and if you come out of the curve even with him, or just ahead of him, you will kill his inspiration and win.”

This strategy, and Williams’ ability to carry it out, was to beat Koernig, who could actually run the distance faster than Percy could.

As they came out of the curve, Koernig and Williams were in the lead, running neck and neck. They ran that way until the last fifty metres. The crowd came to its feet as the Canadian ran on even terms with the great German. Thousands of Koernig’s countrymen urged him on. Then Williams shifted gears, out of his flowing stride and into a blinding driving finish. For an instant the amazed Koernig seemed to hesitate. The skinny kid from Canada flashed by him and won by a yard over Rangeley, the Briton, who had come up fast to place second. Koernig finished third, in a dead heat with Scholz.

The crowd broke loose in the wildest demonstration that ever followed an Olympic victory. Granger, who had mentally run every stride with Williams, was limp. In his excitement, he had clenched his hands on a barbed-wire barrier and they were drenched with blood.

At the Holland Hotel, the cables arrived in a deluge—from Prime Minister Mackenzie King, from almost every Canadian provincial premier and most mayors. There were offers for Williams to run in New York, Berlin, Stockholm. Britain and Australia. Reporters surrounded him. "It doesn’t feel any different being Olympic champion,” he told them. “My lucky coin in the race was a good start.” Then he had a supper of salad and mineral water and went to bed.

When Peerless Percy—as the papers called him—came home in September, he was met by his mother in Quebec and together they traveled across the land in triumph, their arrival in each city the headline news of the day. In Quebec Mayor Oscar Auger gave Percy a gold watch and said, “We want to prove that we are Canadians.” Montreal’s Mayor Camillien Houde told him, “You’re a great kid, Percy. I say to you, stay Canadian.” Hamilton gave him a golden key to the city. In Toronto thousands cheered Percy and his mother at the CNE. At Winnipeg the CPR station was packed with people, and it was Percy Williams Day at the Polo Park racetrack. At Calgary he had only a fifteen-minute stop but hundreds came to the depot to get just a glimpse of the champion.

In Vancouver, the streets for blocks around the CPR station were a solid mass of people that morning of September 14 when Percy and his mother finally reached home. Granger had traveled on ahead and was there to meet them. The moment Percy stepped off the train, the sun broke through dark rain clouds. (“Providence was kind,” the Vancouver Sun observed.) A schoolboy band struck up See The Conquering Hero Comes.

Two thousand schoolchildren marched ahead of the big touring car that carried Percy, Bob Granger. Mayor Louis Taylor and Premier S. F. Tolmic past cheering crowds to Stanley Park. There twenty thousand gathered to see Percy presented with a car and Granger with a purse of five hundred dollars in gold. Premier Tolmie said, “Oh, what a homecoming! Never has there been such joy and pride.”

For the next three years Canada watched and marveled as the World’s Fastest Human kept on running and winning. A few scoffers, mostly U. S. sports writers, said he had been favored by the soft, slow track built on Amsterdam’s marshlands. In February of 1929 he invaded the hard, fast, indoor tracks of the United States and took New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Newark and Detroit by storm as he reeled off a series of truly phenomenal victories over outstanding runners, most of whom specialized in indoor running. He set a new world’s record of forty-five yards (4.9 seconds) and equaled three other world’s records. In Detroit he beat Eddie Tolan, the famous Midnight Express, in a forty-yard dash—and thereby began one of running’s most intense rivalries.

Twenty thousand people jammed Vancouver’s Hastings Park on July 13, 1929, to see Williams win over Tolan by two inches in the hundred yards. A year later, in the same setting, ten thousand spectators groaned as he ran third to Tolan in the hundred metres. On August 9, 1930, in Toronto, Williams ran his fastest race, setting a new world’s record of 10.3 seconds for the hundred metres. This time it was a genuine Charlie Paddock record, set in 1921, he had broken. His Toronto mark was half a second faster than his winning time at Amsterdam, and would have been good enough to win in any of the four Olympics held since 1928. In three Olympics since Amsterdam, the winning time has been 10.3, and in the fourth it was 10.4 seconds.

Now a classic duel between Williams and Tolan was anticipated for the 1932 Olympic Games, to be held in Los Angeles. But Percy had run his last really great race. The beginning of the end came on August 23, 1930, in the hundred-yard final of the first British Empire Games, at Hamilton. The day was cold and, after they had taken off their warm training suits, the finalists were kept standing in their flimsy track suits for almost ten minutes. It was the very situation Granger had always feared. Williams was flying almost certainly to a new world's record when, with thirty-five yards to go, he pulled a muscle in his left thigh. In agony, he kept running, staggering out of his lane at the tape. He won in the remarkable time of 9.9 seconds —and then crumpled to the track. His leg was never right again.

The end came—as fame had come— at the Olympic Games. He went to Los Angeles without Granger (they had quarreled over a petty matter) and certain he had only two good races left in him. He ran third in two hundred-metre heats and then, in the semifinal, ran fourth and out to Eddie Tolan. Tolan went on to become a double champion.

The late Lou Marsh, of the Toronto Star, wrote from Los Angeles, “Williams went down fighting gallantly, but the legs were gone.”

After that Williams stepped deliberately out of the limelight and devoted himself to business and to golf.

Bob Granger also took his second shot at an Olympic double, in 1936 at Berlin. Again he placed his hopes in a twenty-year-old Vancouver boy, Howie McPhee, to win the hundred and two hundred metres. But Howie, a fast runner at other times, didn’t last to the semifinals in either event.

Since then, little has been heard of Granger. Williams has lost touch with him and so have Granger’s own brothers and sisters. He did bob up at the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver—to tell the press they’d never see the likes of Percy Williams again—and then dropped from sight once more. For a while, after Amsterdam, Granger sold insurance, including a big annuity to boxer Jimmy McLarnin, but then moved on from job to job, taking them as they came. His family believes he may be working in a logging camp somewhere on Vancouver Island, but are not sure. He never married.

Today, at forty-eight, Percy Williams is a successful insurance agent with a passionate interest in golf, virtually none in track and field, and with so faded a memory of 1928 he could scarcely live in the past if he wanted to. He still looks younger than his years, as he did at Amsterdam. Long ago, in 1943, he drew out the last $3,000 of his trust fund.

A bachelor, he shares an apartment in Vancouver’s west end with his mother, who still thrills to the memory of the day her son became the World's Fastest Human. Now and then Percy’s day of glory is recalled—the last time when Vancouver began to build a stadium for the 1954 Empire Games and there was a campaign to have it named after him. Percy did turn the first sod but the name decided on was Empire Stadium. He didn’t attend the Games but watched the Miracle Mile on television at his golf club.

Looking back over the years. Percy tries to remember how he reacted to sudden fame. "I was just like any kid of twenty,” he says. “I was simply bewildered by it all. I didn't like running. Oh, I was so glad to get out of it all."