Willie Williams was as fast as the speed of light.
The Gary native was a track star at Roosevelt High School and then at the University of Illinois. In 1956, he broke Jesse Owens' 20-year-old world record in the 100-meter dash.
On the track, he has never had a dull moment. Williams won five state team track titles as coach of the West Side boys team in the 1970s and 1980s. He has coached numerous All-Americans at the prep and collegiate level as he moved to to become the sprint coach at Illinois.
He invented a few speed devices, including ankle-flex straps which he said hold the sprinter's foot in the flexed position for improved ground strike efficiency and lower leg swing resistance.
Now, Williams, with the help of his daughter, Margot, has put his story into print. While he is looking for a publisher, his book is "Remembering the Race: Memoirs of a track and field champion."
Williams is just one of the many great athletes to come out of the Steel City. He has retired from Illinois, but still does some individual coaching for student-athletes in the Champaign-Urbana, Ill., area, where he and wife, Barbara June, live.
"I've been all over the world with the army and track, but I will never forget my home, and that is Gary," Williams said. "I am proud to be from there and I know it has hit some tough times, but I remember what a great town it was growing up and the coaches and teachers I had in the Gary school system."
He will also never forget entering Berlin's Olympic Stadium on Aug. 3, 1956, for an international track meet. It was there Williams ran a 10.1, breaking Owens' mark which he set in the same place in the 1936 Olympics.
"As soon as I walked in, my coach Col. Lipscomb told me to look at the plaque, it was of Jesse and that fired me up," Williams said. "I had met him in 1948 when Coach Bo Mallard had him speak at Roosevelt's athletic banquet. I was always motivated by him and I was thinking of how (Adolph) Hitler snubbed him and refused to shake his hand after he won four golds. I was up on that same platform to get my medal."
Mallard was a father figure to not only Williams, but to many Roosevelt athletes.
"He used to tell me if I won a race I could eat supper at his house," Williams said. "That was a big deal because with six kids, my mom couldn't afford to feed all of us. And his wife was a good cook, so I ate plenty."
A year earlier, in 1955, he pulled up with a sore calf in the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles. Williams won the 1950 Indiana state 100-yard dash in 10.1 seconds, and at the University of Illinois he was the 1954 and 1955 NCAA champ in the 100-yard dash. His 9.4 seconds in the 100 set the University of Illinois school record. Williams was a nine-time individual Big Ten sprint and hurdle champion indoor and outdoor (1952-54). Between individual and relays, he was also part of eight consecutive conference indoor and outdoor championship teams.
"Marce Gonzalez, from Froebel, he was an assistant at Illinois and he got me to come over and run, and I really enjoyed it," Williams said. "His brother Joe, we call him Pepe, used to beat me and won three 100 and 220 state titles at Froebel. Marce as the reason I went to Champaign."