Saskatchewan

Running for more than just gold: Google Doodle honours Sask.-born sprinting legend

When millions bring up their Google.ca search engine today, they’ll see the picture of a Saskatchewan-born runner who etched his name in the history books as a three-time Olympian and world record setter.

Harry Jerome faced hurdles throughout his career, but overcame them, says his sister

This Google Doodle was made by Toronto artist Moya Garrison-Msingwana and is loosely inspired by a statue of Harry Jerome in Vancouver's Stanley Park. It will be featured on Google's front search page on Sept. 30, which would have been Jerome's 79th birthday. (Moya Garrison-Msingwana/Submitted by Google)

When millions bring up their Google.ca search engine today, they'll see the picture of a Saskatchewan-born runner who etched his name in the history books as a three-time Olympian and world record setter.

But Harry Jerome's sister, Valerie Jerome, will see more than a Google Doodle of one man, arms pumping as he strides toward a finish line in the distance.

She'll see long fought-for and deserved recognition for her brother. After all, he was never just running for a gold medal, she said.

"Harry's name will transcend that, in continuing to strive in the face of challenges," she said. 

Harry Jerome is seen appearing on CBC TV's Front Page Challenge on Oct. 25, 1960. (Dale Barnes/CBC Still Photo Collection)

Harry Jerome was born in Prince Albert on Sept. 30, 1940, before the family moved to Winnipeg and later Vancouver.    

He was always athletic and involved in sports, but didn't take up running until high school, when a fellow student dismissed his running abilities and suggested a race, said Valerie.

"That was just the challenge Harry needed," she recalled. "He took on this young man and left him far behind. And at that point in Grade 11, Harry and I, we joined a brand new track club in Vancouver and, well, the rest is history."

Indeed, Jerome would go on to win medals at races in the Olympics, Commonwealth and Pan American games, as well as set and equal world records.  

The 1964 Summer Olympics saw Harry Jerome, right, win bronze, with Robert Hayes winning gold and Enrique Figuerola taking silver. (Allsport Hulton/Getty Images)

But beyond the victories, there were hardships, including mistrust and racism from those around them. They were the only black people at Canadian championships in 1959 and 1960, his sister recalled.

"We were definitely outsiders and certainly to much of the press — certainly not all of it — Harry was just somebody who they didn't take to," she said. "He was very quiet. He was shy, but they decided that he was arrogant and an uppity black." 

Watch Jerome win gold at the 1967 Pan Am Games:

Harry Jerome wins gold at the 1967 Pan Am Games

2 years ago
Duration 3:17
It's a photo finish and a gold medal for Canadian Harry Jerome in the 100 metre final. 3:17

He faced media criticism in the wake of serious injuries, suggesting he didn't have what it took to be a world competitor. His second injury was dire enough that a surgeon warned Jerome might never run again.

Fortunately for her brother, doubts about him were only fuel for his fire, she said.

"You know, he did two more Olympics after that, and set more world records," she said. 

The City of Prince Albert recognized Harry Jerome's legacy in the wake of his death in 1982, with a cairn honouring the runner, while a statue of him also can be found in Vancouver's Stanley Park.    

A statue dedicated to Harry Jerome stands in Stanley Park, Vancouver. The statue was made by Jack Harman. (Scott Russell/CBC Sports)

Now the Google Doodle introduces his legacy to new audiences. According to a spokesperson for Google Canada, Jerome was chosen from a selection process that "aims to celebrate a diverse mix of topics that reflect Google's personality, teach people something new and, most importantly, are meaningful to local culture." 

It's certainly meaningful to Jerome, who wants people to see from her brother's example that failures or setbacks alone do not define a life, that one can be injured or fall short of a podium finish and still go on to achieve.

"I think he's a remarkable example to athletes young and those who are getting on in their careers that, with drive, with your love for the game, the love for the sport, that you can pick yourself up and start all over again."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janani Whitfield works on CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca or on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition

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