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Harrison Dillard — October, 2011
Harrison Dillard won four Olympic Gold Medals, two each in 1948 in London and in 1952 in Helsinki. He is the only man to win Gold Medals in both the 100 meters (1948) and the 110 meter high hurdles (1952). At both Olympic Games, Dillard was also a member of the Gold Medal 4 x 100 meter relay. He tied the World Records for both the 120 yard high hurdles and 220 yard low hurdles in 1946. His four NCAA Championships while competing for Baldwin-Wallace College include two each in both events in 1946 and 1947. Harrison won 14 AAU Championships including seven straight 60 yard indoor high hurdles. He also won 82 consecutive hurdle races from June, 1946 to July, 1948. While at Cleveland’s East Technical High School, Dillard won Ohio State titles in the 120 yard high hurdles and 220 yard low hurdles and led his team to Ohio State team championships his junior and senior years. His Personal Best Times are: 100 meters - 10.30; 120 yard high hurdles - 13.60; 110 meter high hurdles - 13.70; 200 meters – 20.9 and 220 yard low hurdles – 22.6. Harrison served 32 months in the military during World War II, of which eight months were in active combat. He was named the 1955 Sullivan Award winner as the nation’s top amateur athlete. Harrison was inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame in 1974. Locations bearing his name include the Harrison Dillard Track at Baldwin-Wallace College and the Harrison Dillard Bikeway in Cleveland, Ohio. The 88 year old has resided his entire life in the Cleveland area and was married to Joy for 53 years and seven months until she passed away in 2009. They have a daughter, Cherry, and two grandchildren.
GCR:You are the only man in the 115 year history of the modern Olympics to win Gold Medals in both the 100 meters and 110 meter high hurdles. How big was this accomplishment at the time and what is the significance of it nearly 60 years later in this age of specialized training and competition?
HDWhen I won my Gold Medals in the sprint and the hurdles it hadn’t been done before so it was deemed unusual. Specialization now is so key in track and field competition that over the years it seems more likely now that there are reduced chances that someone will accomplish what I did again. So it appears my feat is growing in stature.
GCR:How much recognition did you receive locally and nationally after both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and how different would it be today with television coverage and endorsement deals?
HDWhen I competed there was some recognition, but as a member of a minority race there just weren’t any advertising contracts or product endorsements - so that part has improved greatly in recent years. The people of Cleveland didn’t have a parade or anything of that nature for me though they did have a dinner in my honor. My Olympic racing did get good coverage in the newspapers, but television wasn’t nearly as expansive as it is today. Track and Field was a minor sport in our country when I competed, though it seems to be dying now in terms of regular public interest. The endorsements and television exposure would be totally different today than they were back then.
GCR:You went into the 1948 Olympic Trials as one of several top runners in the 100 meters and one of the favorite in the 110 meter high hurdles. How did it feel after you finished third in the 100 meters to know you were an Olympic team member?
HDThe 100 meters trials were prior to the hurdles trials, so when I made the team it meant I would be on the team in two events, the 100 meters and the four by 100 meter relay. So I had achieved two-thirds of my dream.
GCR:On the other end of the spectrum, what went through your mind as you hit the first three hurdles, didn’t finish the final and did not qualify for the 1948 Olympics in the 110 meter hurdles?
HDI was greatly disappointed but the fact was that I had made the team. My primary objective was to get on the team and I was able to do so. Qualifying in the 100 meters took away a little of the sting but it was still a big disappointment.
GCR:What was the level of excitement for you and your teammates as you travelled to England, when you arrived in London and during the Opening Ceremonies?
HDIt was very exciting for us all to be in Europe competing after the war. I didn’t attend the Opening Ceremonies as I was running the next day and needed to get rest.
GCR:Even though you only finished third in the 100 meters at the Olympic Trials, did you think that if you ran your best you had a good chance to win the Olympic Gold Medal?
HDOh yes, by all means. The watch doesn’t lie and in trial heats, time trials and practice my coach and I found out I could race as fast as the other runners. My coach said, ‘All things being equal, you have a chance to win.’ It all came down to how well I could start and that was our plan of attack at the Olympic Games – to get the good start and see what happens.
GCR:How did you feel about your lane assignment for the 100 meter final and how was your start?
HDOn that particular day I had the lane right up against the stands which is a lane athletes don’t like to have. We don’t like that lane or the inside lane. Back then the primary dislike for the inside lane was that it was chewed up because of athletes running on the cinders. Aside from that, the judges on their stand at times had a tendency that wasn’t intentional of overlooking the athletes in the near and far lane as they concentrated on the middle of the track. It wasn’t the first time I had the inside or the outside lane as I got the sixth lane by draw but I preferred not to be there. I was always a fast starter, especially for a hurdler, and pretty good amongst the 100 meter men. I was able to get a beautiful start and coupled with the fact that I had beaten Barney Ewell in the semifinals, these two factors gave me a mental boost. Though you don’t run to kill the competition in a semifinal race, the fact that I beat one of the favorites even though we both eased up a little bit, gave me the confidence of having beaten him in a race. So with the perfect start I hit the gun and got out in front after a few strides and I could tell I was ahead.
GCR:Once you had the early lead in the 100 meter final, what did you do to try to hold off the other runners who were fast closers?
HDWhen were at 50 meters or so I recall that I was definitely ahead and that of course gave me confidence. I ran as I was taught to run - as hard as I could but also to run relaxed at the same time. These are two things that are kind of opposed to each other but that is how you have the most success. So I just kept driving and hoping I could maintain some part of that margin. I knew that Barney Ewell, Lloyd LaBeach and Mel Patton were tremendous finishers as they had taken turns beating each other in 1948 in various competitions in the United States. They were all very strong runners and my only hope was trying to keep the two or three feet I had on Ewell and the lead of maybe a bit more on LaBeach and Patton. Now I was concentrating on the tape. I was taught to not turn my head as you unconsciously run that way and run bit farther. I kept driving ahead and hoped I would get to the tape first.
GCR:When you crossed the finish line could you tell you had won and what was it like as you waited for the official announcement?
HDAs I took the last stride or two I felt the tape strike me across the chest but it wasn’t a guarantee of winning as the tape was made from cotton yarn back then and as a consequence it could stretch a couple of feet before it popped. At the same time out of the corner of my eye in my peripheral vision I saw a white jersey on the track reaching for the finishing tape and it was Barney Ewell. When the tape hit me in the chest I thought at that moment that I had won, but you never know, so we had to wait for the official announcement. Barney Ewell was finishing very rapidly and knew he was in front of Mel Patton on his left and Lloyd Labeach on his right so he thought he had won the race as he hadn’t seen me on the far lane of the track. So Barney went into a victory dance. Lloyd Labeach, who represented Panama, though I believe he was Jamaican, said, ‘No Mon, you don’t win, Bones win.’ So that confirmed the win in my mind though it wasn’t official. Then they made the official announcement that Dillard of the USA was the winner. That took a couple of minutes and it was the first time that they used a photoelectric system by Omega which showed I won by a couple of feet so there was no question.
GCR:How special of a moment was it to stand on the podium, hear our National Anthem and to have an Olympic Gold Medal placed around your neck for the first time?
HDIt was the culmination of a lifetime and career of dreams. Jesse Owens had been my childhood idol and here I was standing in the same spot as he did 12 years earlier and I was actually his successor as there were no Games in 1940 and 1944. Cleveland Technical High School had back-to-back Olympic 100 meter champions. I remember hairs standing on the back of my head.
GCR:You and your relay teammates, Barney Ewell, Mel Patton and Lorenzo Wright, won the 4x100 meter relay by 0.7 seconds. Did your handoffs go smoothly, was the victory ever in doubt and how was it winning and sharing a Gold Medal with three teammates compared to winning an individual Gold Medal?
HDIt is a relay so the object is to have four people win a race over a prescribed distance so in that sense it makes you feel as good as an individual race. At the same time you have three guys helping you. We won the race easily by close to ten meters. Mel Patton anchored – normally the winner of the open 100 meters would be the anchor, but the coaches in their wisdom decided that Mel Patton should run anchor. Barney Ewell led off as he was an experienced and fast starter who handed off to Lorenzo Wright who was second. I ran the third leg. Even though we won the race we were initially disqualified as some judge on the first exchange between Barney and Wright decided that Barney had gone past the restraining line when he gave Wright the stick. One of the primary reasons Barney was leading off was because of his experience and he told the coaches, ‘No, I didn’t go over the line – it was a fair and honest pass.’ So on the basis of Barney’s word a protest was lodged. We didn’t find out until the next day that we were the winners and got the Gold Medal. The judge had made what was deemed to be an honest mistake. We found out later he was a Scotch Presbyterian minister so his honesty wasn’t in question but his mistake was in looking at the restraining lines he got confused and the line he was looking at wasn’t in our lane.
GCR:Did you watch the 110 meter high hurdles final and were you already thinking about racing that event at the 1952 Olympics?
HDI watched it and Bill Porter, who had been my chief competitor for a couple of years in the States, won rather handily as U.S. runners went one-two three. In the back of my mind I had begun to think about the possibility of the hurdles in the next Olympics a bit - but not a great deal.
GCR:After the Olympics you raced the 110 meter high hurdles eight times and the 100 meters several times in Europe and won each race. Did you defeat all of the Olympic medalists and how bittersweet was it to race so well in your specialty after not qualifying for the Olympics in that event?
HDSince all of the medalists were Americans I would have had to have raced them and I don’t recall any of the races including my teammates, so they must have all went home. I won each race easily whether they were sprints or hurdles.
GCR:What was the reception you received from fellow Clevelander, Jesse Owens, when you returned home from the 1948 Olympics as a double Gold medalist?
HDI didn’t see Jesse Owens for a while but he was very congratulatory. He told me he thought I could do it. But nothing is certain in athletics as Yogi Berra used to say, ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’
GCR:You didn’t do much racing from 1949 to 1951 except for winning the AAU 60 yard high hurdles indoors each year – were you mainly concentrating on working and earning a living?
HDI graduated from Baldwin-Wallace College in January of 1949 and I had to go to work. Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians baseball team, called me and asked me to stop by his office as he had something he wanted to talk to me about. In April or May Bill hired me as part of the Cleveland Indians Public Relations staff and I stayed there for ten seasons until 1958. I met all of the guys on the team – Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Rocky Colavito and of course, Larry Doby, the first black player in the American league. It was a great position.
GCR:In 1952 you only raced a handful of times in May and June before you won the Olympic Trials in the 110 meter high hurdles. Did you find it fairly easy to regain your racing form and how thrilling was it to make the team in your racing specialty?
HDWhen it became time to really get ready for the Olympic Games I talked to Hank Greenberg, the former Detroit Tigers first baseman, whom Bill Veeck had hired as the Indians’ General Manager. I told Hank I needed a little time off to go to California for two or three weeks to train and to try to make the Olympic team. He said that was fine and my job would be there when I got back. I had never lost my racing form as all year around I stayed in good condition and I only needed a couple weeks to sharpen up which I was able to do when I went to California.
GCR:How thrilling was it to finally make the team in the 110 meter hurdles since that was your main event?
HDIt felt pretty good. I didn’t even try the 100 meters and just concentrated on the hurdles.
GCR:How was the atmosphere for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics since it was the first time the Soviet Union was competing?
HDWe practiced at two different times of day in Helsinki. When we practiced the Soviet team was there on the far side of the track watching, taking notes and taking pictures of everyone else. But we got along fine when there was mixing of the teams. Both teams were very cordial though there was a language difference. They didn’t live in the Olympic village and stayed somewhere across town so we didn’t mix with them like with athletes from other countries.
GCR:When you were at the start of the 110 meter hurdles were thoughts of ‘unfinished business’ going through your mind and how did that race develop?
HDI definitely wanted to win, thought I could win and was determined to win. My chief competitors were Jack Davis who ran for Southern Cal and Art Barnard from UCLA. I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that I would beat Art and I thought I would beat Jack if I ran the race I could run and should run. I’d beaten him most of the time, though he had beaten me twice out of ten or twelve races. Again it was a question of the start. Being light and small I didn’t have much weight to get into motion. I was only five feet ten inches and my weight was all the way up to 156 pounds. I figured I could get my 156 pounds underway a lot quicker than he could get his 185 pounds moving which I did. That is the way all of our races went as I would get a quick start and he would be gaining at the end. I held it all the way and I think I heard Jack hit the ninth hurdle when he was making his charge. I could see his lead leg when he started catching me, then I saw his body and his head, but when he hit the hurdle and I cleared the final two hurdles cleanly I drove to the tape as the winner.
GCR:How did winning the Olympic Gold Medal in the hurdles compare to winning the 100 meters four years earlier?
HDWinning the 100 meters was my first Gold Medal and nothing quite compares with that, but it was redemption I guess in a sense that I was able to win the hurdle race four years later. I proved that I was in fact the fastest hurdler in the world. I felt pretty good about that.
GCR:In the 4x100 meter relay, you and your teammates, Dean Smith, Lindy Remigino and Andy Stanfield won Gold narrowly over the Soviet Union by 0.2 seconds. How did you make the relay despite not running the 100 meters, was your squad ahead the whole way and how spirited was the competition as the two nations were in the ‘Cold War’?
HDEven though I didn’t run the open 100 meters the coaches were smart enough to know who to put on the relay. As I recall, our top sprinter was hurt and didn’t even run in the trials and finals, though I would probably have been put on the relay anyway. There was no doubt in the race the whole way even though it was pretty close. There wasn’t any more tension than that which comes in any race with any opponent that is out to beat you. Maybe it was heightened a bit by the fact that it was the Soviet Union, but we got along with them fine.
GCR:When you came back to the United States as a four-time Olympic Gold medalist were you more in the public eye and did it open doors to you in business or for speaking engagements?
HDThe reception was about the same for me as it was four years earlier as a black man in the 1950s. The problems that existed from the times that I was a soldier in the 92nd infantry division and the military wasn’t integrated were still there. I remember guys saying during the war that things would be different when we got back home, but there were still the social issues which we dealt with.
GCR:How proud of you were your parents with all you had achieved athletically capped by your Olympic triumphs?
HDIt was thrilling, especially for my mother because she was the one that really encouraged me. My father supported me too, but my mother was the one who was always there to back me up.
GCR:Going back to the mid-1930s, you were inspired by fellow Clevelander, Jesse Owens, when he won four Gold Medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. How did this kindle the fire for you as a runner?
HDIt goes back to 1936 when Jesse Owens came back home from the Berlin Olympics. They held a big parade in New York City and also had a parade for him in Cleveland. I was thirteen and I remember that we got permission from our parents to see the parade. I ran from 63rd Street and Woodland Avenue to 61st street and Central Avenue which was the nearest point to our home on the parade route. A big, open touring car passed by and Jesse Owens was sitting in the back in a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie while we were standing on the curbside. When the car went past we were so close that he looked down and winked and said, ‘Hi kids, how are you?’ There was a group of six or seven of us and we thought this was the greatest thing in the world that our idol had actually spoken to us. I remember running back home and when I hit the screen door to the kitchen, the back door where we always went in the house, I said, ‘Mama, mama, I just saw Jesse Owens. I’m gonna be just like him!' And she said, ‘Son, I’m sure you will be.’ Though that wasn’t likely, look what the future held. I had just started running a bit before then.
GCR:There are several versions of a story about Jesse Owens giving you running shoes that may or may not have been his actual Olympic running shoes. What is the true story?
HDThere was a story going around that they were his shoes. Here are the facts about the shoes. In 1941 when I was a senior at East Technical High School and Jesse was in Columbus at Ohio State our team was warming up for a meet, he saw my shoes and he said, ‘Wait a minute – I’ll be right back.’ He went into the tunnel to the locker room and came back with a brand new pair of running shoes for me. He and I wore the same size shoe so that’s where the story got out that they were his shoes. They weren’t his shoes, but were a brand new pair.
GCR:Did you and Jesse Owens appear at many engagements or dinners together after your Olympic days were behind you?
HDThere were only a couple of times as Jesse was living out of town either in Chicago or Arizona. He wasn’t around Cleveland anymore.
GCR:You went to Cleveland’s East Technical High School which won 13 State Track and Field Championships from 1920 to 1955 including six in a row from 1939 to 1944. How was it for you to start out running and competing at a school with such a standard of excellence?
HDWe just expected to win. If we didn’t win there were a lot of disappointed people.
GCR:Your Coach, Ivan Green, was a Texan who stood staunchly behind the black members of your track team during times where there was much racial prejudice. What did you learn from Coach Green that influenced you as an athlete and as a human being?
HDHe taught us to make a separation and not to let the way some people treated us or viewed us as individual interfere with how we thought of ourselves when we knew how good we were. If we were better than someone it didn’t matter if we were black or white – the best guy was going to win. He taught us to pride ourselves in being our best. I remember him getting us into a hotel once in Columbus when we went down for the high school State Championships. Apparently they didn't allow blacks to stay there, he raised holy hell and we ended up staying there.
GCR:You won several individual Ohio State Championships and your team also was victorious. Do you have any special memories that stand out from your races and team championships?
HDTrack is an individual sport, but the team aspect is there. The thing that stands out is there was a chain of ice cream shops named Islay’s and we got a special treat afterward. Coach Ivan would stop and we all got sundaes and sodas that we weren’t supposed to be eating as a rule. He would treat the whole team. It was very special back then because on our own we didn’t have the money to do that.
GCR:After committing to go to Ohio State like your hero, Jesse Owens, you ended attending Baldwin-Wallace College instead. How tough was it deciding between the big state school and staying closer to home?
HDIt was based just on being closer to home. For some reason I didn’t want to go 140 miles away from home when I could go 25 miles from home. I don’t know if I totally understood, but I didn’t like the idea of going all of the way down to Columbus though it was only a two-and-half hour drive. I had talked with Coach Eddie Finnegan at Baldwin-Wallace and informed him that I was going to Ohio State and he had wished me good luck. He said, ‘If you change your mind give me a call.’ Well I changed my mind and gave him a call. I was very impressed by him as an individual, but Baldwin-Wallace being so close was a big factor.
GCR:After two years in college you were drafted into the Army and served through the rest of the war. Did you have any combat situations that were life-threatening and how did you become such an expert marksman with no prior training?
HDWe were in combat and fired machine guns and antitank weapons, but I didn’t knowingly take any lives. I became an expert marksman which I attribute to my hand-eye coordination. Anyone with those skills can become a good marksman. Fortunately I didn’t have to use my shooting abilities at close range.
GCR:After the war ended you raced for the United States all over Italy and won four events at the G.I. Olympics. How much fun was it to be competing again and what were some of the highlights of racing for the first time in Europe?’
HDIn May of 1945 personnel from headquarters came to the 92nd infantry, which was the all-black outfit known as the ’Buffalo Soldiers,’ and invited us to try out for service baseball, basketball, football and track teams. Naturally I decided to run track. One of the men who had come from headquarters was a corporal named Roscoe Brown. At that time his name didn’t mean anything to me, but in later years he turned out to be a fine actor appearing on Broadway and in a few movies. He had heard something about me and said, ‘I understand you run excellent hurdles.’ I had never heard it described that way (chuckling.) So that was my first meeting with Roscoe and we became good friends. The G.I. Olympics were in Frankfort, Germany and I won several Gold Medals. Afterward, General Patton was being interviewed by the ‘Star and Stripes’ reporters and they were asking him about this guy, PFC William Dillard from Cleveland, and the General said ‘He’s the best Godd__n athlete I’ve ever seen?’ The General and I shook hands there but that was the extent of my meeting with him. Of course the army used my first name rather than my middle name which I use.
GCR:Back in the U.S. you resumed college life and won both NCAA and AAU titles in the hurdles in 1946 and 1947. What memories do you have of winning these national championships and were Olympic dreams starting to become more realistic?
HDMy coach and I had Olympic dreams even before I left to serve, but certainly after I came back and won those national championships. Some of the races were closer than others, but I was winning almost every race and that was the indicator of what I could do.
GCR:You tied World Records in the 120 yard and 220 yard hurdles in 1946. What did you think when you realized that no one in history had ever been faster?
HDOne of the objectives and dreams of a track athlete is, if possible, to perform and put up performances that no one had done. If you are at that level, and obviously I was, even though I was running for a Division III college, I was running faster than anyone ever had so I had that idea of setting records.
GCR:What stands out from your time running for Coach Eddie Finnegan at Baldwin-Wallace College?
HDWe had won our first Ohio Athletic Conference Track Championship in 1943 and that was his doing as he was the one who put that team together. Most of us had been inducted into the military, but he somehow worked it so that we could come back and run the meet before returning to active duty.
GCR:You returned to Europe for the first time since World War II in 1947 and won 13 straight high hurdle finals. Were you gaining confidence in your ability to move beyond your U.S. championships and to compete on an international stage?
HDWe were the first American team to compete in Europe since prior to World War II, so there was a high level of excitement everywhere we went including Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain. In track and field the watch doesn’t lie so if your time is faster than anybody else it means you are better than them. My wins and fast times were giving me great confidence.
GCR:Were you mainly self-coached after college and did you train with other athletes?
HDShortly after I graduated, Coach Finnegan left to coach as Western Reserve University, which is now Case Western Reserve, so I trained there some my last couple of years. But basically I worked alone and sometimes with a couple of other athletes.
GCR:How difficult was it in the days of amateurism to make a living and to compete at the highest level?
HDYou know that we all had to make a living and I had a good job making a hundred and twenty-five bucks a week which was good money back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
GCR:You tried in 1956 to make a third Olympic team but ended up finishing in sixth place in the 110 meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials. Did you think you could make the team even though you were in your thirties?
HDIf nothing else I am a realist and I could see that my chances of making a third Olympic team were a little slim. The other athletes were running faster than I was and, like I said before, the watch doesn’t lie. I knew it was going to take an awful lot of luck to make the team and I didn’t have that much luck. The Olympic qualifying race was the last race I ever ran.
GCR:As we talked about earlier, race played a much more divisive role in society when you were a young man than it does today. You saw the military integrated by President Truman after you served, athletics become integrated after Jackie Robinson crossed the color line in baseball and societal barriers slowly break down with events such as the Birmingham bus boycott, all-white colleges opening doors to blacks and the civil rights advances of the 1960s. With your unique perspective as a soldier and athlete living through those years, what do you consider the most important element of bringing people of all races together?
HDI don’t think there is any doubt that sports has been a great help as more people began to see and to realize that it didn’t matter what color someone’s skin was. People began to realize that skin color was of no importance. I found that my achievements were truly a matter of my ability, my will, my desire, my capability, how hard I practiced and how well I learned my trade. Those are the important things and not skin color or background. I think that it took everything to bring races more together, but the final push that got it over the hump was competitive athletics with fans rooting for their teams. All of a sudden their teams weren’t all white or all black - they were mixed and then as Latinos, West Indians, South Americans and Asians came into sports, the concern with skin color dissipated. It made people realize that a man is a man and a woman is a woman.
GCR:In 1952 you met your wife, Joy, while competing in Jamaica and you were married four years later. What did it mean to have her by your side for over 55 years?
HDIt was a great thing as we were married for 53 years and seven months up until she passed away two years ago in 2009. My athletic career was on the way down when we were married, but she was ‘my buddy.’ We were great, great friends as well as a couple in love.
GCR:You were named the 1955 Sullivan Award winner as the nation’s top amateur athlete. How does this compare with your many national titles and your Olympic Gold medals?
HDWell it was an honor that was overdue. When I won I thought that even though I had finally received the award I certainly wasn’t the outstanding amateur athlete in this country in 1955. I don’t know who it was, but it wasn’t me. I should have gotten it in 1947 or 1948, but I didn’t. It turned out to be more of a career achievement award. I was the second black athlete to receive it, following Mal Whitfield in 1954, and he was another who’s greatest achievements were in 1948 and 1952.
GCR:The USATF inducted you into its Hall of Fame in 1974 and awards the Harrison Dillard Award annually to the outstanding male athlete in sprints and hurdles. Is the Hall of Fame a capstone to your career and have you attended ceremonies to present the Harrison Dillard Award?
HDThe fact that my accomplishments were recognized was an honor. I have never been to the award presentations for the top sprinter or hurdler.
GCR:Several times you have been honored with projects named after you such as the Harrison Dillard Track at Baldwin-Wallace College and the Harrison Dillard Bikeway in Cleveland. Is it both rewarding and humbling to be so honored?
HDI think the recognition shows some appreciation for what I did. There is an indoor track meet named after me in Cleveland and the outdoor track meet is named after Jesse Owens. So our two names are connected in a sense.
GCR:Bud Collins, longtime sportswriter and television commentator, happened to be a Baldwin-Wallace freshman who covered the 1948 Olympics for the school newspaper. Have you and Bud kept your relationship and friendship over these past six decades?
HDWe seldom see each other but it was amazing that Bud and some other guys did scrape up the money to go to London in 1948.
GCR:Omega, the Swiss watch company whose timing system determined your 1948 100 meter victory in the first photo finish in Olympic history is sponsoring your return to London next summer for the 2012 Games. What are your thoughts on your return to the scene of your first Olympic titles?
HDI am looking forward to it – I’m just hoping that I am physically able and capable. I’m not sure what my involvement will possible be, but to have a torch handoff from me to Roger Bannister would be something.
GCR:What is your current health and fitness regimen and what are your future goals in life as you are in the ‘golden years?
HDOverall I would have to say that I’m blessed. Obviously I’ve slowed down as anyone who is 88 years old has. I do a little walking and some light weights. I’ve just about given up on stretching even though that was a key to my success with my lack of height. I could go to the Olympics today and not worry about my physical well-being. What my health will be a year from now I can’t say. But I am optimistic that just as I was able to make it to Beijing in 2008 I will be able to go to London in 2012.
GCR:Are there major lessons you have learned during your life from the discipline of running and racing, overcoming racial prejudice, the guidance of your coaches and any adversity you have faced that you would like to share with my readers?
HDLife ain’t fair (laughing). I think that there is truth to the statement that you can do anything if you want to. Once you decide that failure is not an option and you put your mind to getting things done in most instances you can achieve at least a portion of your goals. For many of us how far we can go is up to each of us as an individual. The greater your urge and the stronger your willpower, the farther you will go. That is what I found out in track and field. Other than what it may take in having those fast twitch muscle fibers, I am certainly not an overwhelming physical specimen. I look at myself back in those days when they called me ‘Bones’ because of my slight build, but I really wanted to win and thought I could win. From Ivan Green to Eddie Finnegan to my mom, they said, ‘Why not?’ It stuck in my mind and I overcame my relative physical shortcomings through work and sweat and my dreams came to fruition.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI am a great sports fan and enjoy following and rooting for the Cleveland Indians, Cavaliers and Browns. Of course I like track and field though it is hard to find meet results in newspapers these days so people need to use the internet
NicknamesMy dad’s name was William, so to avoid confusion when I was small they called me by my middle name of Harrison. My dad went by Bill. When I was perhaps six or seven or eight years old the kids started calling me ‘Boney Babe.’ That nickname was shortened to ‘Bones.’ As I recall at ten years old I only weighed about fifty pounds. I don’t think any kid today at ten weighs that
Favorite moviesOne of my favorite classic movies is ‘The Ten Commandments.’ I was raised by the saying, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ A relatively new movie I saw a couple of months ago is ‘The Help.’ It received decent reviews and I liked a lot
Favorite TV showsNowadays I find myself watching a lot of reruns like ‘Matlock’ and ‘In The Heat of The Night.’ I like to watch the newer detective stories like ‘CSI’ and ‘Law and Order.’ I also enjoy watching the Discovery Channel and History Channel
Favorite musicI am a great jazz fan going back to the 1940s era and Jimmy Lunceford, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Count Basie
Favorite booksEven though I majored in English I was never an avid book reader. I read a lot of magazines such as Newsweek and Sports Illustrated
First carA 1949 Buick
Current carI drive an SRX Cadillac
First JobMy very first job I recall was washing the walls in Huron Hospital in East Cleveland as part of the hospitality staff
FamilyI have an older sister, Ophelia, whose 99th birthday is September 22, 2011. I have a daughter, Cherry, and three grandchildren
PetsI’m not a great pet lover but my mother always had cats – always! As a youngster I had a dog once or twice. There are two cats in my house now because my daughter and grandchildren are living with me
Favorite breakfastScrambled eggs and toast or hot cakes
Favorite mealI’m a steak and potatoes man, although now I eat fish two or three times a week
Favorite beveragesSouthern style sweet tea. I drink it all of the time
First running memoryI ran in what later became the ‘Playground Olympics’ in Cleveland. I couldn’t have been more than eight, nine or ten years old when I won two or three first place blue ribbons. Those were my first races at 40 or 50 yards
Running heroesMy hero is Jesse Owens – no doubt about it. I also have great admiration for Paavo Nurmi because of the number of championships he won. Another man whose exploits I respect is the great Czech distance runner, Emil Zatopek, who won the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and marathon in one Olympics. To me you can’t do that, except that he did it!
Greatest running momentOf course all of my Olympic Gold Medal races, but there is one other race. Oh boy… I remember a relay race I ran at the Drake Relays when I ran the anchor leg on the four by 220 yard relay. I got the stick and there was a kid in the lead from Los Angeles City College. I must have made up ten yards on him to win the race. For some reason that race stands out in my mind because I caught that guy from 10 yards behind and I remember him sitting down and crying after the race. Maybe that’s why I recall it so vividly
Worst running momentThe 110 meter hurdles at the 1948 Olympic Trials when I didn’t qualify for the Olympics is an obvious choice
Childhood dreamsI don’t recall any until when I was thirteen years old and decided I was going to be like Jesse Owens
Funny memoriesWhen I was a teenager at that first job I mentioned washing walls in a hospital, we would routinely work in all sections of the hospital. This one time I working was in the Obstetrics division and on the other side of a wall I heard a lady who was in the middle of delivery. She was crying out, ‘Oh God if you don’t come now here I’m coming up there.’ To this day I can still remember that lady’s anguish
Favorite places to travelI finally got to see the big hole in Arizona that I have flown over a hundred times – the Grand Canyon. A few years ago my family and I drove across the country and visited it. That is one thing I will never forget. My favorite foreign place is Victoria Falls – it made Niagara Falls seem like a shower. When I saw Niagara Falls there was no question about how impressive they are, but Victoria Falls are as big and then half again as wide. That is the one to see – once you see Victoria Falls that would be hard to top
Final comments from interviewerIt was an honor to spend over an hour conversing with one of America's greatest championship sprinters and the only man to win Olympic Gold medals in the 100 meters and 110 meter hurdles. Harrison Dillard links us with over eight decades of history as a man who followed in Jesse Owens footsteps, served the USA in World War II and blazed a path to Olympic glory with dedication, intelligence and in a humble manner. This outstanding American is an example to us today of how talent and effort leads to triumph.