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Bill McKinnon was first Islander to win medal at Canada Games

Bill McKinnon looks at his medals on display at the track clubhouse at UPEI Alumni Canada Games Place. They include the first medal won by an Island athlete at the Canada Games.
Bill McKinnon looks at his medals on display at the track clubhouse at UPEI Alumni Canada Games Place. They include the first medal won by an Island athlete at the Canada Games.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Bill McKinnon was fifth or sixth in the field of eight runners midway through what, at the time, was the biggest race of his life.

When the competition is 100 metres long, time is of the essence.

But McKinnon, who admitted starts weren’t his forte, didn’t panic. He trusted his training, stormed back, crossed the finish line at the 1969 Canada Games in Dartmouth, N.S., and stepped into the Island’s sports history.

“I think I threw my arms up and just slowly jogged probably most of the way around the turn and just felt a sense of relief,” McKinnon said on Monday.

The Charlottetown native thought he had won the race, but waited and watched as a discussion ensued among race officials.

“I felt that string hit my chest,” he said. “I was pretty sure (I had won). It was a photo finish. It was close.”

Within moments, he received word his 10.37 time was the fastest.

McKinnon had not just won the marque event of the track and field competition, but he had also claimed Prince Edward Island’s first medal in the multi-sport event.

The Games are held every two years, alternating between winter and summer. They started in 1967 in Quebec City as a winter competition.

McKinnon was there for the first Games as a member of the Saint Dunstan’s hockey team. At the time, men’s hockey was played among university teams.

RELATED STORY: Third generation of McKinnon family going to the Games.

McKinnon said he always had a love for track and field.

“Fortunately, we had some good people directing us, and it instilled a love of the sport that I still have today,” he said.

Heading into the 1969 Canada Games, McKinnon had won the 100 metres and finished second in the 200 at the Eastern Canadian championships in Toronto.

“There was a lot of pressure,” McKinnon admitted

Some of it was self-imposed and some was from people within the Island community, saying he had a real chance of winning the race.

“That’s the last thing, when you’re entering into a national competition for the first time, that you really want to hear,” McKinnon said.

But on race day he was healthy, confident in his ability and mentally prepared.

One of his techniques included wearing big, dark, wrap-around sunglasses.

“Nobody could see in, but I could see out,” he said.

“I always thought I was aware of what they were doing and they were guessing what I was doing. Whether it was right or wrong, I have no idea.”

Some people had questioned whether the sprinter from Canada’s smallest province could win the title.

He laid those questions to rest in 10.37 seconds.

“I’m proud of what I accomplished, no questions about it,” McKinnon said. “I was pretty proud to be able to show the medal to people and say, ‘we can do it’.”

McKinnon made the national team in 1969 and competed in Tokyo, but a hamstring injury forced him to pull out of some events. The injury persisted in the years that followed.

McKinnon is still very visible at the province’s sports fields, courts and rinks. The retired teacher and athletic director at Montague Regional High School said he enjoys watching athletes progress through the ranks with some of them ending up competing for UPEI and Holland College.

Monday at the UPEI Alumni Canada Games Place, kids ran around the track during a summer camp. They laughed and giggled and it was apparent to see the impact it had on McKinnon.

“That's the name of the game. If it’s not fun, is it worth it?” he smiled.

McKinnon has a message for the Island athletes who will wear P.E.I. colours this summer at the Canada Games in Winnipeg.

“Wear it with pride because you earned it.”

Getting to know Bill McKinnon

Who: A Charlottetown native who was inducted into the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame in 1971. The 69-year-old now lives in Stratford.

Did you know? McKinnon is the first Islander to win a medal at the Canada Games. The sprinter won gold in the 100 metres at the second Games held in 1969 in Halifax/Dartmouth, N.S. He also competed in hockey in 1967 in Quebec City with the Saint Dunstan’s Saints.

The 100-metre field: McKinnon was running against two sprinters each from British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec and one from Alberta. The official finish was Prince Edward Island, Alberta and British Columbia, respectively, in the medal positions.

McKinnon said: “The concept of a multi-sport (event), being part of Team P.E.I. and being able to go and cheer on friends in other sports really embosomed in me just how important an event like this was.”

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