Canadian sprinter Harry Jerome

Harry Jerome holding the Canadian flag at the opening ceremonies of the first Canadian Summer Games at Halifax-Dartmouth (1969). © Government of Canada

For the week of Monday, February 22, 2021

On February 28, 1964, African-Canadian Olympian Harry Jerome ran the 60-yard dash in six seconds at an indoor meet in Portland, Oregon, matching the world record. This was a remarkable turnaround in his running career, putting to rest uncertainty about whether he would ever run again after a major hamstring injury barely two years earlier.

Jerome was born in Saskatchewan in 1940, moving with his family to British Columbia in late 1952. He pursued sprinting with encouragement from his high school track and field coach and, with his sister, Valerie, became one of the few athletes of African descent in the sport. At just 18 years old, he broke a 31-year-old Canadian national 220-yard sprint record. His sprinting ability earned him several scholarship offers, and he attended the University of Oregon, where he raced and earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master’s in physical education.

Harry Jerome represented Canada at the Olympic Games in 1960, 1964, and 1968. His numerous achievements included matching world records for the 100-metre dash (10.0 seconds) and the 100-yard dash (9.3 seconds), becoming the first person to co-hold world records for both events. Between 1964 and 1967, he won two Bronze and two Gold medals in major international competitions. In 1966, when he won his first major international Gold at the Commonwealth Games, he also ran 9.1 second world record in the 100-yard. He set a total of five records in his career, four of them world records.

Jerome’s athletic career was not without struggle. His career was marred by racially prejudiced media coverage, in addition to everyday racism. This meant a lot of skepticism and criticism when, in the early 1960s, he suffered illness and career-ending injuries to his quadriceps and hamstrings. In 1964, after a remarkable recovery that his university coach described as “the greatest comeback in track and field history,” Jerome won a 100-metre dash Olympic Bronze medal and set the indoor 60-yard dash world record.

After retiring from competition in 1969, Jerome worked as an advocate for amateur athletes’ support and for minorities’ representation in Canadian broadcasting. He was inducted into both Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame (1963) and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1971). Jerome died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in December 1982.

Harry Winston Jerome is a designated national historic person. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of National Historic Persons—individuals who have made unique and enduring contributions to the history of Canada.

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Information on how to participate in this process is available here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhchsmbc/ncp-pcn


February is Black History Month. Learn more about African-Canadian histories by exploring our online archives about R. Nathaniel Dett, Carrie Best, Ernest Melville DuPorte, William Hall, George Dixon, and the Experiences of Black Loyalists, among others, and check out entries about No 2 Construction Battalion, C.E.F., Kathleen ‘Kay’ Livingstone, and the Black Pioneers in British Columbia in the Directory of Federal Heritage Designations.