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Olympian Harrison Dillard celebrates 95th birthday with family and fellow legends

At Frankfurt, Germany, in August, 1948, Harrison Dillard, center, edges American teammate Barney Ewell in the 100-meter dash -- a repeat of their close finish at the recent Olympic Games in London -- at a Frankfurt Athletic Club-sponsored exhibition meet featuring 10 Olympic athletes.

HENRY COMPTON/STARS AND STRIPES

By BRANSON WRIGHT | The Plain Dealer, Cleveland | Published: July 8, 2018

 

CLEVELAND, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Winning four goal medals in two different Olympics along with all of the accolades associated with his hall of fame track and field career, even Harrison Dillard was overwhelmed with joy at his Richmond Heights home on Saturday afternoon.

Celebrating 95 years of an incredible life along with family and friends can often move a man. And Dillard's birthday celebration did just that to the former Olympian.

"I'm so grateful for the people that showed up," Dillard said. "There are many people here that meant so much to me over the years. I don't see them everyday anymore but the chance to see and talk with them and restore the memories."

The memories are jammed with highlights and heroics. Dillard, a graduate of East Tech and Baldwin Wallace, is the oldest living American gold medal winner. He also is among the last surviving "Buffalo Soldiers," the famed all-black Army unit that fought with distinction during World War II.

Dillard won his first two gold medals in the 1948 London Olympics in the 100-meter dash and 4x100 relay. Dillard won gold in the 110 meter hurdles and the 4x100 relay in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He's the only male to win sprints and high hurdles in the Olympics.   

Dillard shared the day with fellow '48 Olympian Herb Douglas, 96, who won the bronze in the long jump that year. The two first met six years prior to the London Games and have been close since.

"Herb and I met at the indoor National AAU Championships at Madison Square Garden," Dillard said. "We hit it off. He's like my brother."

Dillard has been like a father to many of the Olympians who attended the affair including: Hayes Jones (bronze '60, gold '64 110 meter hurdles), Ted Wheeler ('56 1,500 meters), Cindy Stinger ('84, '88, '92), Herman Frazier ('76 gold 4x400, '76 bronze 400 meters) and Edwin Moses ('76 gold 400 meters, '84 gold 400 meters, '88 bronze 400 meters).

Moses, a Dayton native who lives in Atlanta, is one of the greatest competitors in track and field history. He won won 107 consecutive finals (122 consecutive races) and set the world record in the event four times between 1977 and 87. The previous record holder for consecutive races won was Dillard (82). Moses could have been anywhere on Saturday but he would not miss this opportunity.

"Many folks want to be like Mike [Jordan] but I want to be like Herb and Harrison because they're in the top half percent of the Bell Curve and I'm very glad to be here while they're still here at 95 and 96," Moses said. "I hope I can make it that long.

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