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Honoring Northeast Ohio's Forgotten Olympic Gold Medalist Paul Drayton

Jeune Drayton and Walter McCormick
Terry Pluto
Paul Drayton's wife, Jeune, and her son, Walter McCormick, hold up Drayton's Olympic medals.

Northeast Ohioans who remember Paul Drayton want the late track star to get his long-overdue recognition. Drayton won a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics and returned home to live a quiet life in Cleveland until his death in 2010.

WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says he received an email from a Cleveland.com reader asking that Drayton be honored. Pluto acknowledged he had never heard of Drayton and began researching.

Northeast Ohio's great runners
Throughout the decades, Northeast Ohio has produced some memorable track stars.

Butch Reynolds of Akron held the world record for the 400 meter dash for 11 years with his personal best time of 43.29 seconds set in 1988. That year, he was the silver medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. There's also Harrison Dillard and Jesse Owens who were from Cleveland.

But Pluto says Paul Drayton is an unknown name to most today.

Who is Paul Drayton?
Drayton attended Cathedral Latin on Cleveland's east side. He went on to Villanova where he holds the second fastest time in school history in both the 100 yard dash (9.2) and the 220 yard dash (20.1). He graduated in 1962.

Then he went to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, where he won a gold medal in the 4x100 meter relay. Drayton led off the relay team and improved the 400 world record to 39.0.

"The star of that team was Bob Hayes, known as the world's fastest human," Pluto said.

Then, Drayton won a silver medal in the 200 meters. Teammate Henry Carr won the gold.

"He was always the No. 2 fastest guy," Pluto said.

Paul "Otis" Drayton
Terry Pluto
At Cathedral Latin High in Cleveland, Otis Paul Drayton won several state titles in track.

Back to Cleveland
After his medal-winning performance, Drayton returned home to Cleveland where he lived a quiet life.

"This was before the 1970s and 80s when the international track circuit began in Europe, where you could go and really make some money in meets over there. That wasn't going on [in the US]," Pluto said.

Pluto said Drayton went to work with the Cleveland Recreation Department in the park service. He later went on to work as a processor for the sheriff's department.

Pluto said Drayton didn't like to flaunt his medals. In fact, he kept it quiet.

"He was just a shy guy in general. [He was] a Bible reader, a devout Catholic and a quiet guy," Pluto said.

Pluto also said Drayton found some other passions later in life, like acting in productions with the Karamu House, a black theater company in Cleveland.

Paul Drayton's Olympic medals
Terry Pluto
In the 1964 Olympics, Paul Drayton won a silver medal in the 200 meters and a gold in the 4X100. His wife, Jeune Drayton, still has the medals.

"It's like he had this other side to him that 'I was a great Olympic champion, but that's not all of who I am,'" Pluto stated.

Drayton married his wife, Jeune, in 1984. He even kept his track and field success hidden from her initially.

"They went out a couple of times. It wasn't until later that a couple of her friends said, 'Don't you know who that is?' And she had to ask him about it," Pluto said.

Getting recognition
Dayton died at the age of 70 in 2010 after a brief battle with cancer.

Now, since Pluto has written about Drayton, he's hopeful the city will pay tribute.

Pluto said he called Cleveland Councilman Joe Jones.

"I heard he was interested in maybe naming his track or a street or something after [Drayton]. Some fans have emailed me saying they should create a track scholarship or something like that," Pluto said.

Pluto says that Drayton's story is "flat out Northeast Ohio history" that had been forgotten.

"It's a little hard to write an interesting story about a quiet, decent life because there aren't the big ups and downs. But that becomes the focal point, along with, 'Did you ever hear of this guy?' and over and over, it kept popping up as 'no'," he said.

"He sort of dealt with everything, whether it was winning an Olympic medal and, 'I gotta go get a job,' or even when he had cancer, his friends were saying just how upbeat he was during the whole thing."

Updated: March 3, 2021 at 4:54 PM EST
This story has been updated.
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Sean Fitzgerald is an announcer/board operator at Ideastream Public Media.