First medallist: Bill McKinnon won a photo finish to earn gold at the 1969 Games, capturing the Island’s first medal at the multi-sport event
Bill McKinnon was first Islander to win medal at Canada Games
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 multisport 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.
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, wraparound sunglasses.
“Nobody could see in, but 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
Iwin the title.
He laid those questions 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.” to
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.