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Black History Month in Ohio: Harrison Dillard

When Harrison Dillard failed to make his high school track team as a sprinter, idol Jesse Owens stepped in with some life changing advice

CLEVELAND — Harrison "Bones" Dillard was born and raised in Cleveland. Dillard won 4 gold medals in the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics in London and Helsinki and is the only athlete to win gold medals in sprints and hurdles.

He was inspired by fellow Cleveland son Jesse Owens. When Dillard was 13, he and his neighborhood friends watched a parade honoring Owens after his Olympic victories. He told his mother at the time that he wanted to be "just like Jesse Owens." 

When she saw he was serious, Dillard's mother started cleaning people's houses and taking in their laundry so the she could buy more food to strengthen her son. 

Dillard caught Owens' attention too. Dillard attended the same high school that Owens had graduated from. When Dillard started his freshman year, Owens gave him a new pair or running shoes. 

Dillard had his hopes set on becoming a sprinter, but he failed to earn a spot. Owens encouraged Dillard to become a hurdler. 

After high school, Dillard served more than two-and-half years in the Army during World War II. He ran in an Army track meet and won four events. 

Then he enrolled in Baldwin-Wallace College where he won four national collegiate titles hurdle events. He graduated in 1949. 

A statute outside of Dillard stands outside the entrance to BW's Georgie Finnie Stadium. 

After ending his track and field career, Dillard went to work at the Cleveland Municipal School District Board of Education. He also worked with the Cleveland Indians in spring training, coaching the players on how to run. 

Dillard passed away at the age of 96 -- as a track and field pioneer and true American hero.

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