Pursuing the Past
By Colleen MacPherson
The date was July 15, 1960. The place was Griffiths Stadium at the University of Saskatchewan, then located on the corner of College Drive and Cumberland Avenue. The event was the Canadian track and field Olympic trials. And the star – sprinter Harry Jerome.
Before a crowd of spectators and fellow athletes, Vancouver sprinter Harry Jerome settled himself into the starting blocks. The gun sounded and when the 20-year-old crossed the finish line 100 metres down the track in a time of 10.0 seconds flat, he had tied the world record set just days earlier by Armin Hary of Switzerland. On that day, the Prince Albert-born Jerome became the first Canadian to officially hold a world track record, a record that would not be broken until 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics.
Fast-forward almost 50 years, to the new Griffiths Stadium located a few hundred metres southeast of its original site. Earth moving equipment is at work April 21 preparing for the installation of artificial turf. In the strip of ground between the north end of the track and the stadium fence, a machine operator digs from the earth a heavy bronze plaque commemorating Jerome’s achievement, but it’s a relic that raises more questions than it answers.
Of note is the incorrect date (it should read July 15) and the Olympic motto “Swifter, Higher, Stronger” in Latin.
The contractor turned the plaque over to project manager Rick Kalenchuk in the Facilities Management Division (FMD). Although caked with dirt, the plaque is in excellent condition. Pointing to rust around one of the corner bolt holes, Kalenchuk concluded it was, at some point in the past, mounted on something, but no one he consulted had any recollection of the plaque, who installed it, or where.
The biggest mystery of all, of course, is how it came to be buried in the ground.
(Coincidence? On Page 5 of the April 20 issue of Kalenchuk’s local rural newspaper is a lengthy article about Jerome’s accomplishments. The plaque was found one day later.)
Always game to tackle a mystery, Patrick Hayes in University Archives searched the records, but came up empty. It seems there is no evidence the University had anything to do with the plaque, nor can it be seen in any old photographs of the original Griffiths Stadium.
“If I hadn’t seen the photograph of the plaque, I never would have believed it existed,” said Hayes.
There are many who were at Griffiths Stadium that day in 1960 who remember the event. One is former Dean of Physical Education John Dewar. He was there to cheer on his wife Patricia who was also competing for a spot on the Olympic team (she hit a hurdle, losing her first race in three years and her chance to represent Canada in Rome) but when contacted, could shed no light on the plaque mystery.
Another phone call however, proved to be more fruitful. It was to a man who, in his words, was “a lowly freshman” when Jerome ran at Griffiths Stadium. Lyle Sanderson retired in 2004 after 39 years coaching U of S Huskie track and field athletes, and he remembers the plaque. It was mounted on a large granite boulder that sat near the start line of the old track but he is unsure who put it there.
When the stadium was moved in 1967 to accommodate the widening of College Drive, Sanderson recalled the plaque and rock being moved too, but some time after that the plaque went missing. Eventually, he said, the boulder disappeared as well.
Then, Sanderson shared information that comes from “an unnamed source” who claims athletes from another province removed the plaque. Being sticklers for detail, the athletes realized the new stadium was not in fact the site of Jerome’s record-tying run so they surreptitiously removed the plaque and buried it in the ground where it remained for 46 years.
Asked what should be done with the plaque, Sanderson suggested it be incorporated into the performing arts and sport complex proposed for the corner of Cumberland and College, the original stadium site. That project includes twin arenas and the coach emeritus thinks it would be nice to see the plaque buried again, but this time at centre ice.
Later in 1960, Jerome tied another world record when he ran 100 yards in 9.2 seconds, but at the Rome Olympics, a pulled muscle in qualifying forced him out of the competition.
In November 1962 he suffered a muscle injury so sever he was not expected to ever run again but by 1964 Jerome was back on the track where he set two more world records – the 4 x 100 relay record with the University of Oregon team, and the indoor 60 yard record of 6.0 seconds. That same year Jerome won a bronze medal in the 100-metres at the Tokyo Olympics.
His fourth world record came in 1966 with a 100 yard run in 9.1 seconds. Jerome’s last chance at an Olympic medal came in 1968 in Mexico City but he finished seventh in the 100-metre with a time of 10.1 seconds.
Jerome retired from competition and joined Sport Canada, traveling the country to help aspiring athletes. He was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1971.
Harry Jerome died of a brain aneurysm on Dec. 7, 1982 at the age of 42.