Canadian track and field legend’s family receive replica Olympic gold medals after originals were stolen
Two stolen Olympic gold medals won by Canadian track legend Percy Williams 95 years ago are coming home. Type of.
The medals are actually freshly minted replicas of those awarded to the Vancouver sprinter at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, recreated by the International Olympic Committee at the request of the Williams family some four decades after the originals disappeared.
They will be presented to the family on Friday and the BC Sports Hall of Fame will be inaugurated.
“We are very fortunate to have played a small role in renewing Percy’s story,” said family member Tracey Mead. “He was a great Canadian athlete and now his achievements are being shown again.”
In 1928, the 20-year-old Williams was a relatively unknown man, overtaking favorites from the United States, Germany and Great Britain to win gold in both the men’s 100 and 200 meters. The day Williams arrived back in Vancouver, a school vacation was declared and 25,000 people came to meet him at the train station.
The tiny runabout held the world 100-meter record from 1930 to 1936 before it was broken by American hero Jesse Owens. In 1978, The Canadian Press named Williams Canada’s Greatest Olympian.
A statue of Williams stands in front of the BC Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Vancouver, but curator Jason Beck says Williams may be Canada’s greatest athlete not remembered.
“When I first started in the hall, I started tours outside by the statue of Percy and asked people, ‘Do you know who this person is?’ Nobody would know. And then I would tell the group … and everyone was just flabbergasted,” Beck said.
“There are only nine male athletes in history who have ever done that [won the Olympic 100m and 200m], including Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens and Usain Bolt. So it’s pretty amazing.”
According to Beck, the IOC has a policy against re-striking medals but made an exception after the Williams family sent a request that included the signature of 102-year-old Della Williams Riedel, who was eight at Williams – her future Second cousin by marriage – raced to fame in Amsterdam.
Medals stolen in Night Raid
Williams was a huge supporter of the BC Sports Hall of Fame when it first opened on the Pacific Coliseum grounds in the mid-1960s, and donated a number of items. In 1980, his two Olympic gold medals were stolen when someone smashed the glass case they were locked in during a late-night raid.
At the time, gold prices were at historic highs and it was suggested that the thief or thieves had probably melted down the medals, even though they contained little precious metal.
Beck says the BC Sports Hall of Fame is grateful to the Williams family for rededicating the replicas and ending a sad tale of stolen fame.
“We have never had any items stolen from our collection other than Percy’s 1928 Olympic gold medals [and] Nobody here is proud of that,” he said. “But it also puts Percy in the spotlight, who is probably the most underrated Canadian Olympian of all time.”
Williams died in 1982 at the age of 74.