As the oldest living Olympic 100-metre champion, Harrison “Bones” Dillard was celebrated when he returned to London last month for the global quadrennial summer Games.
It was in the same city in 1948 that Dillard won gold medals in the 100-metre event, equalling the world record 10.3 secs., and the 4 x 100-metre sprint relay.
Now 64 years later, Dillard was back in London – thanks to official Games’ timekeeper Omega – with close friend and adviser Michael McIntosh by his side. The pair collaborated to publish Bones: The Life and Times of Harrison Dillard which was released to coincide with the Olympic Games.
Jamaican-born McIntosh spent four years at Calabar and his final high school year at Excelsior before migrating to the Greater Toronto Area in July 1970. While holidaying in Jamaica six years later, he met Dillard’s Jamaican-born wife, Joy Clemetson, who died three years ago and their daughter, Terri, who were also on vacation.
Once McIntosh found out that his late coach Herb McKenley and the Dillards were friends, he developed a close relationship with the American family.
“As the years went on, I started to realize how special this man was and he was always willing to discuss things with me over the phone,” McIntosh said in the book’s introduction. “Some nights, we would talk for a couple of hours and I would always try to take notes about this humble man. I would ask and he would provide the answers. It was always fulfilling to get some of the great stories out of him. We would not only discuss his athletic career but also his experiences as a young Black man growing up in times that were racially difficult.”
Before Joy Dillard passed away in November 2009, she suggested that McIntosh write a book about her husband. They were married for 53 years.
“I was flattered, but frankly I told her I wouldn’t know how to go about it,” recalls McIntosh who in 1972 was a silver medallist in the 800-metre event and a member of the record-breaking 4 x 400-metre team at the national junior championships. “As the years went by, that was always in the back of my mind but I just didn’t know how to go about doing it.”
After her death, McIntosh summoned the courage to approach the four-time Olympic gold medal winner with the book idea.
“I thought about how gracious the Dillards had always been to me and that there were so many people who didn’t even know who Harrison Dillard was,” said McIntosh, the son-in-law of retired Canadian judge, George Carter. “My mind started to click and that is when I decided I was going to try to change that. I had to do something to enlighten others about Harrison…I have met many world champions and Olympians over the years, but none of them can compare with Bones who is such a simple and humble human being. He’s proud of his accomplishments, but not boastful.”
Dillard took an unbeaten streak of 82 sprint wins into the 1948 Olympic trials, won 14 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships and attended the same Ohio high school as his friend and hometown hero Jesse Owens who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Games. He remains the only Olympian to win both the 100-metre and the 110-hurdles events, having clinched the short hurdles title and being part of the United States quartet that won the sprint relay crown in Helsinki in 1952.
In addition, Dillard served his country overseas during World War II as a member of the 92nd Infantry, worked in public relations for the Cleveland Indians baseball organization and wrote a newspaper column for the now defunct Cleveland Press.
“This man, this Harrison Dillard, is an amazing man,” said Bill Cosby in the book’s foreword. “He is admirable not only for his athletic accomplishments but also for his character, showing a unique awareness of how the choices we make define ourselves. He has faced crucial issues and challenging decisions throughout this life and never turned away, not one time.
“Many times today, people don’t want to know history. To me, that attitude lacks the fearlessness to attack the important issues of our time with a passion for winning, a passion Bones possesses.”
Though 89, Dillard is still active. Last December, he spent a week in Jamaica where he had the opportunity to meet the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt and London Games sprint double silver medallist, Yohan Blake.
Dillard presented Bolt with a postcard that read, “From the Oldest to the Fastest”, and an autographed copy of his book with the signature, “From one Great to Another.”
The book is available through http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/Products/SKU-000589815/Bones.aspx
By RON FANFAIR