- 02 Aug 1948
- London 1948
Harrison Dillard - Athletics
Harrison Dillard was a mere 13-year-old schoolboy in 1936 when he attended a huge parade in honour of Jesse Owens, hero of that year's Olympic Games in Berlin. Later he actually met Owens, who gave him his first pair of running shoes and inspired him to devote himself to athletics.
Harrison was a natural hurdler, whose technique and pace allowed him to win 82 110m hurdle races in a row. He set the world record and seemed destined for great things but, in the American Olympic trials where qualification seemed a formality, he struck three hurdles and pulled out before the race was even finished, stunned and heartbroken.
There was a shard of hope, however. And it came in the form of his selection to go to the Games in London as third choice sprinter in the 100m. Dillard, known as Bones, rose to the occasion, and found himself in the final.
He faced well-fancied rivals. There was Mel Patton, the world record holder in the 100 yards, as well as another American, Barney Ewell, who had beaten Patton at the US trials, equalling the world record. Panama's Lloyd LaBeach similarly produced a great performance, also equalling that 10.2secs world record.
After one false start, they were off with Dillard taking the lead and Ewell trying to reel him in. At the end, few could be sure who had won. Ewell celebrated what he thought was victory, dancing and embracing his rivals until LaBeach suggested: “Man, you no win – Bones win.” The photo finish proved him right – Dillard took gold while Ewell, who delighted the crowd by proving gracious in defeat, earned Silver and LaBeach took the Bronze.
Patton was fifth but later won the 200m by less than a metre ahead of the unfortunate Ewell. A few days later, though, Dillard, Ewell and Patton were back on the track, this time as part of America's 4x100m relay team. They came home first but were initially disqualified for a baton change outside the zone. The decision was reviewed and then reversed, and the USA took victory. This time, all three rivals could finally celebrate gold.