Harrison Dillard: The World’s Greatest Sprint-Hurdler Ever
Harrison “Bones” Dillard’s is a story of firsts. He was crowned the Olympic 100-meter champion at the first Games to be held post–World War II in the first Olympic race ever to be decided by a photo finish. Four years later, he became the first—and remains the only—man to ever win both Olympic 100-meter and 110-meter hurdles titles. His total haul of four Olympic Gold medals is the stuff of legends. He is quite simply one of America’s greatest-ever athletes.
The Triumphant Return of a True Champion
Dillard’s story has now been recorded for posterity in his book Bones: The Life and Times of Harrison Dillard with his senior advisor, Michael McIntosh. Fittingly, the pair travelled with fellow athletic great and close friend Herb McKinley back to where it all started 64 years ago. Dillard launched his memoir during the London 2012 Games, the place where he was crowned the fastest man on the planet in 1948.
Where It All Began
Dillard’s slender frame as a youngster garnered him the nickname “Bones.” His physique belied the athletic prowess and spirit that would see him inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame, complete a distinguished military service as one of the original Buffalo Soldiers, and serve as a hometown civic leader through his career with the Cleveland Board of Education. Growing up, his hero was fellow Cleveland native Jessie Owens.
“As a small boy, I went to see Jessie Owens’ homecoming parade in Cleveland after the 1936 Olympics. He spied me and my friends. He winked and said, ‘Hey, kids, how are you doing?’ I ran home and nearly tore the screen door off the hinges. My mother was in the kitchen, and I could hardly contain myself. ‘Mama, Mama!’ I crowed. ‘I just saw Jessie Owens, and I’m going to be just like him!’ She smiled and said, ‘Yes, son, I’m sure you will be,’” said Dillard of the inspiration behind his athletic career. In fact, Jessie Owens would later present Dillard with his first pair of running shoes to support his ambitions.
The Driving Force behind the Book
Dillard, as with many truly great individuals, is extremely modest about his achievements. The driving force behind the book was his senior advisor, Michael McIntosh, who, thankfully, convinced Dillard how important it was to record his story. The book is a culmination of McIntosh’s intimate knowledge, cultivated over a 35-year friendship.
“Bones and I have been friends for over 35 years. Over that time, I have gotten to know him not only as a great athlete, but as a remarkable human being. His self-motivation and determination have driven him to all of his amazing achievements, and it is fitting that his story start being told in London, where it all began 64 years ago,” said McIntosh.
This is McIntosh’s first writing project, and he says it is the greatest challenge he has ever undertaken. This is a grand statement from a man who once survived getting married, moving house, and changing jobs all in the space of two weeks! He says the greatest thing he respects about his friend, Harrison Dillard, is his determination not to let life’s obstacles stop him from doing everything he ever wanted to. This is obviously a trait shared by both gentlemen.
Leaving a Lasting Impression
A fine example of Dillard’s ability to affect others is the number of long-lasting friendships he has fostered. And it is an esteemed list that includes some impressive individuals in their own rights. Dillard was recently interviewed in London by The Telegraph newspaper alongside fellow hurdling great, Ed Moses. The foreword to his memoir is written by legendary comic actor, Bill Cosby. Dillard and Cosby met in the 1970s and Cosby was delighted when he heard a book was being written about his friend’s life. In fact, Cosby sums Dillard up perfectly when he writes:
“That’s the beauty of this man. He never puts on airs, but you can sense that there’s something special about him. He’s not begging anybody to recognize him ‘cause he knows who he is and what he has done.”
Thankfully, Bones: The Life and Times of Harrison Dillard now sits alongside the great man’s place in the Olympic and USA Track and Field Halls of Fame, as well as the Harrison Dillard Bikeway in his hometown of Cleveland. All will ensure his legacy endures for future generations to appreciate and emulate.