What is the ideal body type for a 100 meter sprinter?
ANSWER: The one who crosses the finish line first.
We all remember the 2008 Olympics when a 6 foot 5 inch tall muscular runner named Usain Bolt ran 9.69 for the 100 meters and he slowed down at the end with a chest thump.
We all remember 20 years ago in 1988 when Ben Johnson won in 9.79, and he also slowed down as well.
With the physiques of Usain Bolt and Ben Johnson, the general public (i.e. non-track fans) thinks, “Geez, one has to be BIG or HUGE or BOTH to win the 100m”.
But 80 years ago in 1928, Percy Williams won the 100-200 double at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.
Percy Williams was five feet six inches tall, and never more than 126 pounds… that’s about 57 kilograms!
I work in Downtown Vancouver, and at lunch, I try to squeeze my workouts at Stanley Park’s Brockton Oval, not too far from the statue of Harry Jerome. I can usually jog there in less than 10 minutes, which is an ideal warm-up for a sprinter!
The track is not synthetic just like the old days, and I find it inspiring that both Percy Williams and Harry Jerome used to train at this very track. (Side note: too bad Empire Stadium is torn down, the site of the 1954 Commonwealth-Empire games Miracle Mile against Roger Bannister and John Landy)
Here is the full article from Canada.com. I will present only a snippet with some interesting coaching concepts such as practicing blocks inside your hotel room into a mattress, being cautious of deep tissue massage, warming up under several blankets to stay warm, and rubbing cocoa butter before each race.
It’s a great long read.
Part 2 will feature another short and skinny sprinter from 1908… over 100 years ago by an American fellow named Archie Hann.
Williams won the 100 and 220 yards three straight years at the annual Vancouver and District inter-high school meet at Brockton Point Grounds in May 1926, 1927 and 1928, setting the meet’s 100-yard record of 10.0 seconds in 1927, which took 42 years to break, and the 220-yard mark of 22.0 seconds in 1928, a record that lasted 31 years.
In other competitions, Williams was up against older, more physically mature sprinters. Williams was 5’6″ and, during his running career, never more than 126 pounds (his height and weight at the ’28 Olympics, making him the smallest man ever to win the Olympic century). Nevertheless, Williams could beat even these more experienced sprinters in races in Vancouver and Seattle.
Granger was fanatical in his desire to incorporate creative ideas into Williams’ training schedule. Due to Williams’s knee and heart problems, extra care had to be taken not to overextend the boy prodigy in workouts.
“In place of long hours of rigorous instruction and practice which most athletes use to acquire form, visualization had to be adopted,” Granger explained in an exhaustive 20-installment feature in the Vancouver Sun that began July 13, 1929, entitled “Climbing Olympus: The inside story of Percy Williams’ titanic struggle against overwhelming odds in his courageous battle for fame.”
“…he spent a certain time each morning before a mirror moving his arms in the proper way. I feared it would be impossible to get his arms working in the orthodox straight swing. His cramped style was so severe I felt it would always bother him if he tried to completely correct it. I worked out a compromise… half his own, half the straight.”
To help with speed work, Granger made good use of a group of Williams’s friends, including Bobby Gaul, whose untimely death in 1935 at 24 resulted in the prestigious award which is presented each year to UBC’s outstanding graduating male athlete. Since no one in Vancouver could keep up with Williams, this gang of six–known as the “Hexamis”–would be given handicaps of five or 10 yards in races with him. It was Williams’s job to catch them as fast as possible over a short sprint.
“They were days of enjoyment to me,” Granger once wrote, “and to him too, for if ever a boy enjoyed running Percy Williams was that boy, and if ever a man enjoyed coaching a willing pupil, I was the man… it was no hard task, to teach him that one race, any race, all races were just fun.”
The 1928 Olympic trials were held in Hamilton, a hotbed of track. Williams, still not recognized in Eastern Canada as a major threat to Ontario’s best dash men, showed his heels to the field in the 100 metres in 10 3/5th seconds. It was a Canadian record, the equal of the Olympic record. Then he flashed home first again in the 200 metres in 22 seconds flat. Twenty-year-old Williams was on his way to the Olympics.
Granger made his way from Vancouver to Hamilton by hiring himself out as a pantry boy on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He cut and served pies, cakes and cheese during the five-day trip.
When Williams won, Granger immediately went public, informing Vancouver papers that Williams would win the 100 metres at the Olympics. This was a brash prediction indeed. Americans were always the favourites in the sprints, and 1928 was no exception.
The Canadian team went by train directly from Hamilton to Montreal where they boarded a steamer for Europe. Granger had funds to get only to Montreal but the pleas of Williams’s mother convinced 19 Vancouver businessmen to contribute a total of $350, enough for his third-class passage on a boat that departed Quebec City a day later.
Five days on the ocean without normal training could be a severe test for any athlete, and young Williams had never faced this type of interruption. Granger was not going to allow this to become a problem. Through the kindness of his ship’s wireless operator, Granger sent messages in the wee small hours of the night, emphasizing to Williams “the necessity of taking his special stretching exercises regularly and not to let anyone massage him too heavily for fear of causing soreness in the muscles…”
Once in Amsterdam, Granger had Williams practise starts in his bedroom by running into a mattress held up against the wall. That seems strange now but Williams had complete faith in Granger’s rather oddball workout ideas.
Conservation of energy was paramount. Granger didn’t allow Williams to march in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremonies. Rather than doing a lot of jogging to warm up prior to races, Williams would lay down flat in the dressing room, piled high with as many as 15 blankets and coats to “warm up.” Before each race, Granger rubbed Williams in cocoa butter.
Over 80 competitors were entered in the 100 metres. Williams won his first two heats, clocking 10 3/5th seconds in the second to tie the Olympic record. However, he was beaten by six inches by Bob McAllister, “The Flying Cop” from New York City, in the semi-finals. Both McAllister and Jack London of Great Britain, winner of the second semi-final, were timed in 10 3/5th seconds. Williams was now definitely off the radar in people’s minds as the final approached.
Granger was alert enough to notice that Williams always kneeled on the same knee whenever he used a trowel to dig his starting holes before the semis. It was a small but very possibly a significant observation. He told Williams to avoid putting stress on one leg by alternating knees when digging the holes for the final. Later Williams was spotted dutifully switching legs while making his starting holes.
Williams had a wonderful ability to remain relaxed before races. Never was this more important than for this 100 metres because there were two false starts before the six finalists made an acceptable break with the gun.
“Williams, off to a brilliant start,” reported the Province, had “towering giants on either side and every man of them champions, all heralded as the world’s best… At 30 yards Williams was running head up, fighting for every ounce that was in him.” Then, in a dramatic final lunge, Williams “withstood the terrific closing drive of rivals in a sensational finish and was across the line a full yard in front of Jack London.”
The lad from Vancouver, now mobbed by his teammates, was on top of the world.