I Just Ran: Percy Williams, The World's Fastest Human
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Literary Nonfiction. Biography. Canadian History. Sports. At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics an unknown Vancouver runner named Percy Williams shocked the sports world by capturing the 100- and 200-meter gold medals. Some said the feat was a fluke. It wasn't. In 1929 Percy silenced naysayers by sweeping the US indoor track circuit, then he went on to set a world record in the 100 meters that would stand until the arrival of Jesse Owens. And in between he waged a speed duel with the fleetest men on the planet, a battle for track supremacy and the title "World's Fastest Human." Based on extensive research that included access to Percy's private letters, diary and scrapbooks, I JUST RAN is the first full-length account of this sports legend, one of the most famous Canadians of his day but now largely forgotten. It begins as the Cinderella story of a youth who conquers a sport dominated by American sprinters. Then it gets grittier, for success and fame had a dark side. I Just Ran follows Percy and his janitor-coach Bob Granger as they journey through the world of elite running in the 1920s and 30s—a world that was not always pretty beneath the veneer of amateurism.
called to their marks. To the watching crowd the two Americans on the outside, Wykoff and McAllister, seemed good bets to win. So did the muscular figure of London in lane four, representing Britain, and the German ace Lammers in two. As for the young man in lane three — a Canadian, was he? — he appeared hopelessly outclassed. At 126 pounds on a five-foot-seven-inch frame, he was surely too scrawny for such top-flight competition. Then there was the matter of his experience: he didn’t have any,
Elizabeth, 122–3 Rockne, Knute, 190 Rogers, Jimmy, 240 Rosenfeld, Fanny, 122–3, 185 Royal, Charles, 11, 297n15 Russell, Harley, 44, 45 Russell, Henry, 76–77, 78, 98, 99, 116, 141 Ruth, Babe, 3 Salt Lake City, 38 Schlosske, Herman, 120 Schmidt, Helene, 122 Scholz, Jackson, 27, 36, 38, 76, 78–79, 81, 82, 90, 95, 120, 121, 125, 128–30, 131, 132, 144 Schuller, Jacob, 120, 125–6, 128–9 Scotland, 18, 132, 147 Scott, Wally, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 35, 52, 160, 208 Seattle, 10, 26, 37, 51, 53,
53 Weber, Jake, 101 Webster, Harold, 287–8n30 Webster, Peter, 270–1 Whitehead, Eric, 267 Wiese, Bob, 184, 190–1 Wightman, George, 81 Wildermuth, Karl, 76, 180–2, 185, 187, 188, 190 Wilhelmina, Queen, 93 Willard, Jess, 240 Williams, Charlotte (mother), 7, 8, 26, 31, 68, 113–4, 118, 132, 136, 137–9, 143, 146, 187, 191–3, 200, 202, 236, 262, 267, 280n9, 309n23; appearance, 9, 12, 57, 149, 152; character, 9, 15, 156; death, 11, 271, 280–1n9; early life, 9; employment, 11, 148; helps send
denizens of the West End. Schools held fundraisers and sent along five or ten dollars. Paper boys for the Daily Province collected thirteen dollars and fifty cents in pennies and nickels and dimes. One hundred dollars came from the employees of BC Electric, where Fred Williams worked. Johnnie Dedrick and his Rainbow Orchestra held a benefit dance and raised seventeen dollars and fifty cents. Chalmers United Church added another five dollars, the Empire Café and Grill another ten, the staff of the
to all.”20 “Yip! “Yip-ee!! “And likewise Whoop-ee!!!”21 So began Lou Marsh’s Toronto Star report on Percy’s Boston win, and it pretty well described how all Canada felt. And the eastern US papers were only slightly less enthusiastic. Percy’s victory against America’s best in his very first indoor appearance was an irresistible story and they ran with it, the New York World splashing the news in banner headlines across all eight columns: “Williams of Canada, Olympic Sprint Champion, Shines in