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


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read