Harrison Dillard, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who was considered the world's best hurdler in the 1940s, died in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday, according to the New York Times. He was 96 years old. The Associated Press was the first to report the news and it was confirmed by his friend Ted Theodore. He was battling cancer at the time of his death.
“We are saddened to learn of Harrison’s Dillard’s death after a battle with cancer. His legacy as a gold medalist in the 100m and 110m hurdles remains as an amazing achievement,” USATF (USA Track and Field Organization) said in a statement. “Our sport has lost someone special and our condolences go out to his family and friends.”
From June 1947 through June 1948, Dillard won 82 consecutive finals in high hurdles, low hurdles and sprints. The streak ended during the 1948 Olympic trials as he took part in the 110-meter hurdles, Dillard's foot hit four of the first seven hurdles and he didn't finish the race. When talking about the loss, Dillard said, "I was supposed to be a shoo-in,” he said, “but I learned that day that nothing’s ever a sure thing. It was the worst race I ever ran. It was the only time in my life than I didn’t finish a race.”
He was able to prove how dangerous he was during the 1948 Olympics as won the 100-meter dash. And during the 1952 Olympics, Dillard won gold medals in the 110-meter high hurdles and the 400-meter relays. Dillard won four gold medals which tied him with another track legend Jesse Owens. Owens and Dillard are both from Cleveland and Dillard talked about how he saw Owens during a parade when he was 13 years old.
“Jesse looked down from an open car and said, ‘Hi, boys.’ I ran home. I said, ‘Mama, Mama, I just saw Jesse Owens, and I’m going to be just like him.’ She said, ‘Of course you are, son.’ She didn’t take it seriously then, but later, when she saw how much it meant to me, she went out and cleaned other people’s houses and did their laundry and cooked for them so she could buy a little more food to build me up," Dillard said.
In his career, Dillard won more than 400 finals in sprints and hurdles including 14 United States Championships. He's the first and only athlete to win gold medals in hurdles and sprint events.