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Lifelong Clevelander Harrison Dillard, Olympic legend who won 4 gold medals, dies at 96

The East Tech and Baldwin Wallace grad was at one time the "fastest man in the world."

CLEVELAND — Harrison Dillard, whose Cleveland roots helped shape him on the road to Olympic glory, has died at the age of 96.

Baldwin Wallace University, where Dillard first rose to widespread stardom in track and field, confirmed his death to 3News Friday. Further details were not immediately known.

Born in 1923, Dillard graduated from East Technical High School and enrolled at Baldwin-Wallace College before being drafted into the United States Army during World War II. He served in Europe as part of the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" infantry, and after the Allied victory returned to school and became an NCAA champion in track by tying the world records in both the 120-yard and 220-yard hurdles.

It was in the Olympics, however, that Dillard would notch his greatest athletic achievements: Despite failing to qualify for the 110-meter hurdles during the 1948 London games, Dillard barely made it into the 100-meter dash and went on to win the gold medal in a photo finish. He equaled the world record as well, earning the title of "Fastest Man in the World."

Credit: AP/pool
The Olympic Games judges' panel released this photo finish of the 100-meter dash final won by Harrison Dillard (nearest camera), Baldwin Wallace star, of the US team at Wembley, England, Saturday August 3, 1948. From front to rear are Dillard; MacDonald Bailey, Great Britain, sixth; Alan McCorquodale, Great Britain, fourth; Lloyd LaBeach, Panama, third; Barney Ewell, Lancaster, PA, second; and Mel Patton, Los Angeles, CA, fifth.

Dillard also won gold as part of that year's 4 x 100-meter relay team, and four years later in Helsinki helped Team USA place first in the same event and also took the 110-meter hurdles for himself. His four Olympic gold medals tied his idol and fellow East Tech alum Jesse Owens, who famously won four different events at the 1936 Berlin games.

Dillard remained a popular figure in Cleveland and continued to live in the area for the rest of his life. He even worked for the Indians organization as well as the Cleveland school district in various capacities.

Dillard is survived by his daughter Terri and three grandchildren. His wife Joy preceded him in death in 2009.