Track Stats - Eric Coy

Coy by name, strong by nature

The story of the only British-born discus gold-medallist by Bob Pillips was published in “Track Stats” August 2007

The discus event, like the javelin, was at a low ebb in Britain during the 1930s and would remain so at least until Mark Pharaoh gained a pleasantly unexpected 4th place at the Olympic Games of 1956. Yet there was one Briton in those pre-war years who was a gold-medallist and had both a stadium and a district in his adopted city named after him. The reason that you will not find the name of Eric Coy in the British rankings is that he emigrated to Canada and the city that honoured him was Winnipeg.

Coy was born on 16 May 1914 and was already a national champion and record-breaker at the age of 18 – but in the sport of snowshoe sprinting which would have been completely unfamiliar in his birthplace of Nottingham. The exact date at which Coy went to Canada has not been established, and it may well be that he did so as a child with his family and therefore never took part in any organised athletics competition in Britain. From 1933 through to 1941 he won the North American snowshoe sprint championship, except for 1938 when he was absent at the British Empire Games in Australia, and it would be interesting to know what sort of times he achieved for the standard 100 and 220 yards distances which were raced. Though he enjoyed the competition, he regarded his snowshoe activities mainly as part of his athletics training programme.

His early track and field experience was also as a sprinter in the Winnipeg suburb of Charleswood and he was credited with 10.0 for 100 yards, but at 6ft (1.83m) tall and 13st 8lb (86kg) he was better suited to the throwing events. He won his first Canadian title in the javelin in Winnipeg in 1935, and his biography in the 338-page volume of “Canada’s Sporting Heroes”, published in 1974, says that “from 1935 to 1954 Eric Coy was Canada’s outstanding athlete in field events”. He won the javelin again in 1938 and other national titles in the shot in 1938, 1940, 1948 and 1949 and the discus in 1938 and 1948. At the Empire Games of 1938 in Australia he was 2nd to Louis Fouche, of South Africa, in the shot and won the discus.

His best performances of 48-3½ (14.72) in the shot in 1948 and 147-7¾ (44.99) in the discus in Australia a few days after the 1938 Games are a tribute to his durability, and even if they seem unexceptional it should be borne in mind that Coy was the first Canadian to surpass 14 metres in the shot and that not a single Empire athlete ranked in the top 50 in the World in the discus during the 1930s apart from the South African all-rounder, Harry Hart, and the Scotsman, David Young, who Coy comfortably beat for the Empire title with a throw of 146-10 (44.76). That victory in Sydney gained Coy the award as Canada’s outstanding amateur sportsman of 1938. Young set a British Empire record of 153-8 (46.83) at the Scottish Championships in Glasgow in June of that year.

During a lifetime devoted to sport Coy also took part at a high level in badminton, football, handball, ice hockey and squash. From the age of 16 he had worked for the Manitoba Telephone Company and spent his holidays training with the track and field athletes at the University of Minnesota. During World War II he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as an instructor after qualifying as a pilot navigator and he played American-style football for the RCAF Hurricanes. After the war he resumed work with the Manitoba Telephone Company and was selected for the 1948 Wembley Olympics, where his best efforts of 14.12 in the shot and 39.53 in the discus were well short of the respective qualifying marks for the finals of 14.60 and 46.00. He had previously been named in the Canadian team for the cancelled 1940 Games.

Coy also represented the British Empire for both the shot and discus in the post-Games match with the USA at the White City, and his Canadian biographers say that he was chosen for the Canadian team which went to the 1950 Empire Games in New Zealand, though he certainly did not compete there, and his final major appearance was at the 1954 Games in Vancouver at the age of 39, when he placed 9th in the shot at 43-10½ (13.37). After retirement from competition, he remained active as a coach in track and field, ice hockey and wrestling, and following his death in 1985 the “Eric E. Coy Memorial Trophy” was donated by his widow, Helen, to be awarded each year to Canada’s leading athlete in the four throwing events. The winner for 2006 was the Commonwealth Games hammer silver-medallist and national record-breaker, Jim Steacy.