‘He was a hero’: Community gathers to remember the life of Olympic runner Harrison Dillard

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BEREA, OH (WJW) -- He was a trailblazer in the world of sports, and he was one of Cleveland's own.

Olympic runner Harrison Dillard passed away at 96 years old after a fight with stomach cancer.

A silent goodbye was held at Baldwin Wallace University on Saturday for the legend.

"He was a hero. He's a graduate of BW who used his talents through hard work, accomplished incredible things but always with a grace and warmth that for our students was so inspiring," said University President, Bob Helmer.

He was the oldest living U.S. Olympic champion and holds to this day the record for winning two gold medals in both the sprints and high hurdles.

"There were some who said if I would simply concentrate on sprints that I could've been as good of a sprinter as there was, certainly at the time. I say I must've been as good anyway because I won the 100," Dillard said in a 2008 interview.

Dillard was inducted in the track and field hall of fame in 1974 and the U.S. Olympic committee hall of fame in 1983.

The 1955 Sullivan Award Winner for the nation's outstanding amateur athlete is also remembered as being hospitable and funny.

"It was pretty cool, I was kind of star struck and just seeing all the records that he had, especially coming out of BW, it was very like, kind of inspiring, let me know that I could do something," said student Jordan Leverette.

Dillard once remembered fondly the historic footsteps in which he proudly stood as a champion in 1948.

"I remember standing there thinking this is where Jesse Owens stood in the last Olympic games," he said in a 1996 interview with Fox 8.

In the same interview, he told the Olympians of tomorrow to not be deterred by failure -- his words carrying on through time.

"Be willing to pay the price to make the necessary effort so if you’re good enough and God has given you the talent, you combine the two and work hard and you'll be surprised how far you can go," he said.

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