Harrison Dillard is the only man ever to win Olympic gold medals in both the 100-meter dash and the 110-meter hurdles.
But what makes this feat most impressive is that Dillard restarted his athletic career after serving three years in the U.S. Army as a member of the all-Black 92nd Infantry Division, better known as the Buffalo Soldiers. And Dillard accomplished this unique feat in two different Olympic Games, streaking to the 100-meter gold in the London 1948 Olympic Games – the first Olympics after World War II – and the 110-meter hurdles gold in the Helsinki 1952 Olympic Games.
Dillard also won gold medals in the 4×100-meter relay in London and Helsinki.
He also carried the Olympic Flame in the 1984 and 2002 torch relays and went back to London in 2012 when the Olympics Games returned there.
As successful as Dillard was, however, he isn’t even the best known Olympian from his hometown (Cleveland) or his high school (East Technical High School). As a child, Dillard looked up to another Clevelander: the legendary Jesse Owens. Dillard and his friends would sneak into venues to watch Owens race and he attended Owens’ victory parade after his four-gold medal triumph in the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games. Dillard later received a pair of track shoes from Owens.
After high school, Dillard enrolled at Baldwin Wallace College, where he joined the U.S. Army reserves and soon was called up to active duty, to be stationed in Italy during World War II.
When the war ended, the Army held an Olympic-style competition in Frankfurt, Germany. Dillard was eager to sign up and won a handful of events before a crowd that included Gen. George S. Patton, who said that Dillard was “the best goddamn athlete I’ve ever seen.”
Dillard’s strongest event was the hurdles, but “Bones” – as he was known because of his slight frame — failed to qualify at the 1948 U.S. Olympic Trials, clipping a hurdle and losing his stride. Fortunately, he had qualified for the 100-meter dash and in London, he edged teammate Barney Ewell in the first photo finish at an Olympic Games. For the 1952 Helsinki Games, Dillard saved everything for the 110-meter hurdles, opting to skip the 100-meter dash. When he won gold in the hurdles, Dillard leapt in the air and exclaimed, “Good things come to those who wait!”
Dillard passed away in 2019 after a battle with stomach cancer. He was 96.