Harrison Dillard was a four-time Olympic gold medal winner in track and field. He was the top hurdler throughout much of the 1940s, though his first Olympic gold came in a dramatic photo-finish in the 100-meter sprint at the 1948 London Olympic games. He won his signature event, the 110-meter hurdles, at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic games. He was part of the gold medal-winning 4×100-meter relay teams at both Olympics.
Dillard served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was hailed by General George S. Patton as, “the best goddamned athlete I’ve ever seen.” Following his track and field career, Dillard worked for the Cleveland Indians in public relations, and taught sprinting to New York Yankees players in spring training. He also had a long career as a business manager for the Cleveland public school system. He was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame alongside his childhood hero Jesse Owens in 1983.
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Died: Friday, November 15, 2019 (Who else died on November 15?)
Details of death: Died in Cleveland of stomach cancer at the age of 96.
Inspired by Jesse Owens: Growing up in Cleveland, Dillard was inspired by hometown hero Jesse Owens. Owens gained international fame for winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. His success as an African American athlete disproved the myth of Aryan supremacy that Adolf Hitler promoted. Owens gave Dillard a new pair of shoes when he was a senior in high school. Dillard won the state championship in those shoes, and later went on to match Owens’ total of four Olympic gold medals.
Notable quote: “The other kids didn’t have the willingness, and they knew that the event was called ‘hurdles’ for a reason. They knew they’d most likely hit them, trip over them, crash to the track over them, and get scratched, get scarred and bleed. They weren’t willing to do that. I, however, was,” he wrote in his memoir.
What people said about him: “He didn’t get his success by just being athletically better than everyone else. He outworked everybody.” —Theodore, a freshman teammate at Baldwin-Wallace College
Full obituary: The Washington Post