National Track & Field Hall of Famer Wes Santee dies


Tom Surber
Media Information Manager
USA Track & Field

INDIANAPOLIS - A track star at the University of Kansas, who was also an Olympian and world record holder, Wes Santee died Sunday of cancer at his home in Eureka, Kansas. He was 78.

A 1952 Olympian who competed in the 5,000 meters at the Games in Helsinki, Santee is most known for his prowess in the mile and 1,500 meters.

Santee was one of a handful of competitors considered to be a serious threat to break the four-minute mile barrier before Roger Bannister did it 1954. Santee set the world record in the 1,500 meters on June 4, 1954, when he was timed in 3 minutes, 42.8 seconds at the Compton Invitational. He also set the indoor mile world record twice (4:04.9-1954 & 4:03.8-1955), and the indoor 1,500m world record once in 1955 (3:48.3).

Known for his versatility as a collegiate star at the University of Kansas, on April 10, 1954, Santee had an amazing three-race performance against the University of California at Berkeley, where he won the 880y in 1:51.5, the mile in 4:05.5 and ran a 440 relay leg in 48-flat.

As a Jayhawk, Santee won the NCAA outdoor mile title in 1953, the NCAA 5,000m crown in 1952, and the NCAA cross country title in 1953. The national indoor mile champion in 1955, Santee captured USA Outdoor 1,500m/Mile crowns in 1952, 1953 and 1955. He was world ranked by Track & Field News in the 800 meters in 1953 (#2), 1954 (#8) & 1955 (#6); and in the 1,500 meters in 1953 (#2), 1954 (#3) & 1955 (#7).

Santee, who was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2005, joined the Marine Corps after leaving Kansas. He later moved back to Kansas and worked in the insurance business, while remaining active in the Marine Corps Reserves. He later retired as a colonel from the Marines and became the national president of the Marine Officers Association. He retired from the insurance business in the early 1990s.

Santee is immortalized in statue form, along with other KU track stars Glenn Cunningham and Jim Ryun, at The Legends in Kansas City, Kan., and Rim Rock Farm, home of the Jayhawk cross country team. He is survived by his wife Doris, sister Ina Walsh of Belton Missouri, sons Spike and Bob, and daughter Susie of Lawrence Kansas, five nephews, one niece and seven grandchildren.