A fleeting glimpse at a champion

Most people are familiar with the iconic statue of a runner in Vancouver's Stanley Park. Mounted right on the waterfront, the city's skyline a glitter behind, the figure's chest is pushed out.

Most people are familiar with the iconic statue of a runner in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

Mounted right on the waterfront, the city’s skyline a glitter behind, the figure’s chest is pushed out.

Connected to the base only by the tip of his left toe, the right leg bends at the knee and his arms, like wings, extend behind him.

Most people recognize the statue, but don’t know the athlete it remembers.

Charles Officer was one such person.

A director, he was commissioned to put the late Harry Jerome’s story on film. But the 35 year-old filmmaker didn’t hear about the ‘60s sprinter until 1998.

In 2002, as a date for the Harry Jerome Awards in Toronto, Officer started to realize everything he didn’t know.

“You first hear about somebody and then you hear a little bit more and you think, ‘holy cow,’” says Officer. “Then you dig in to actually do a film, or something, and then you’re like, ‘holy, holy cow.’ There was so much I didn’t know before I started this whole journey, so it’s been amazing.”

Officer had just wrapped his internationally acclaimed, Nurse. Fighter. Boy. when he received an e-mail, out of the blue, from producer Selwyn Jacob.

Jacob has been a lifelong fan of Jerome’s and always wanted to make a film about him.

Jacob’s friend, Fil Fraser had similar aspirations that were realized through his 2006 book, Running Uphill: The Fast, Short Life of Canadian Champion Harry Jerome.

Officer grabbed a copy of the book, read it and developed an idea for the film.

“It was not what the film was, in the end,” he says laughing. “As you dig deeper you discover what you really want to say.”

It took about a year of researching, making contacts and building trust before Officer’s film to really start taking shape.

His Mighty Jerome will be screening here in Whitehorse for the Available Light Film Festival this Friday.

Jerome’s sister and fellow Olympian, Valerie, refused to take part in the film because of her reservations about the book. Officer didn’t want to delve into her objections, but his project works without her.

The film’s strength comes from the time Officer spent with rest of Jerome’s family – his ex-wife Wendy, his daughter and then his mother.

Their contributions really made this movie personal, says Officer.

“It was an amazing ‘in’ to a perspective about a human being that I couldn’t speak to anymore,” Officer says, remembering Wendy’s collection of things from Jerome’s life that she keeps solely because of her love for him.

“Then when I met his mother, that blew everything open for me.”

Officer began to find and see Jerome’s spirit, he says.

He started to become more than just an athlete, in Officer’s mind.

“I take a lot from this guy,” he says. “It takes a certain kind of spirit, a special kind of spirit, to endure certain things.”

Harry Jerome could run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds. In fact, during the 1960 Olympic Trials in Saskatoon, judges rounded the 9.90 seconds world record up to 10 seconds (Jerome’s record made in the previous month) because officials refused to believe it.

Jerome competed for Canada in three summer Olympics, winning a bronze in 1964. He won gold at the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games and at the 1967 Pan American Games. He set seven world records, holding or equalling four concurrently from 1963 to 1966.

At one time, he was the fastest man on the planet, and he championed equal opportunities for minorities as well, says Officer.

Simply because Jerome was black and a successful athlete, he became an icon for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

His athletic accomplishments catapulted him onto a politically charged world stage. And in Canada, where racial problems were often ignored, he was a silent leader of the time, says Officer.

Jerome died of a brain aneurysm in 1982, at the age of 42.

“He gave a lot of himself to the betterment of people,” he says “A different perspective on protest. He found his own way to revolutionize and, if you look between the cracks, you can really listen and feel the way he spoke.

“His athleticism taught him to be a leader in certain ways,” says Officer.

“It’s an amazing story and, for me, it was a forgotten story,” says Andrew Connors, director of the Available Lights Film Festival.

The festival does try to stay about half Canadian, but this film was not chosen because of that mandate.

“I think we all gravitate to inspirational films,” says Connors. “And you can’t have a film festival – especially in the Yukon – without hope.”

Growing up, like most Canadian kids, Officer idolized Wayne Gretzky.

Before an injury pushed him back towards filmmaking, Officer was drafted by the Calgary Flames, on his way to living that dream.

But what if he knew about Jerome as a child?

“Being a black person playing ice hockey, I had my issues,” he says. “They never made front page of a newspaper but they were actually really connected to the things that Harry Jerome experienced on a certain level.”

Mighty Jerome is playing at the Yukon Arts Centre this Friday at 5:30 p.m.

Both Selwyn Jacob, the film’s producer, and Officer will be there.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at


Just Posted

Whether the dust jacket of this historical novel is the Canadian version (left) or the American (right), the readable content within is the same. (Michael Gates)
History Hunter: New novel a gripping account of the gold rush

Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike is an ‘enjoyable and readable’ account of history

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your furnace and your truck need to go

Perhaps the biggest commitment in the NDP deal with the Liberals was boosting the Yukon’s climate target

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read