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100 days of Kansas City-area Olympians: Bill Nieder, shot put

Bill Nieder AP Rome.jpg
Posted at 8:00 AM, Jul 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-15 09:00:21-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bill Nieder wasn’t supposed to be on the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.

The silver medalist at the 1956 Melbourne Games in the shot put, Nieder finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1960.

Only an injury to Dave Davis bumped up Nieder, who had been an alternate, for the 1960 Rome Games, where he won a gold medal and set an Olympic record in the shot put (64 feet, 6 3/4 inches).

Originally from Hempstead, New York, Nieder grew up in Lawrence and attended the University of Kansas, where he played football in 1953 before switching to track and field from 1954-56.

Nieder, who was a high school All-American for Lawrence High School, suffered a career-ending knee injury in his first football game with the Jayhawks against Texas Christian.

Bill Nieder football.jpeg
Lawrence High School graduate Bill Nieder was a national high school and college record-holder in the shot put, won two Olympic medals, set the Olympic and world record in the event and also helped prevent a possible plane hijacking at age 77.

Doctors nearly amputated the leg, but instead Nieder pivoted to a career in throwing events after an exhaustive and extensive rehabilitation.

By the winter of 1955, Nieder had become a good enough shot putter to win the Big Seven indoor title in the event before sweeping the Texas, Kansas and Drake Relays en route to winning an NCAA shot put title at the outdoor championships.

Nieder finished second in the shot put at the 1956 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships for the national runner-up Jayhawks.

His mark at the 1956 Big Seven Outdoor Championships (60-3 3/4) still ranks Nieder eighth and his best indoor mark (59-9 1/4) still ranks 10th in KU history.

Bill Nieder.jpeg
Lawrence High School graduate Bill Nieder was a national high school and college record-holder in the shot put, won two Olympic medals, set the Olympic and world record in the event and also helped prevent a possible plane hijacking at age 77.

Nieder, who also won an AAU national title in 1957, was the first high school athlete to put a 12-pound shot more than 60 feet and the first college athlete to put a 16-pound shot more than 60 feet.

Only reigning world-record holder Parry O’Brien, a fellow U.S. competitor and Nieder’s bitter rival, topped Nieder at the 1956 Olympic Games.

Nieder set his first world record in the shot put (63-10) at the Stanford Relays in March 1960. It lasted a week before Dallas Long topped it.

Only a week after that, Nieder reclaimed the record at the Texas Relays (65-7) on April 2, 1960.

Three months later, Nieder, who had injured his knee water skiing, nearly missed the Olympics.

But during the Final Pre-Olympic Test in August 1960 in San Antonio, Nieder broke his own world record (65-10), becoming the first athlete to ever put a shot more than 20 meters (20.06).

Bill Nieder 60-foot in college.jpeg
Lawrence High School graduate Bill Nieder was a national high school and college record-holder in the shot put, won two Olympic medals, set the Olympic and world record in the event and also helped prevent a possible plane hijacking at age 77.

Nieder, who nearly got barred from future Olympics for tipping over a taxi with three friends in Australia after the cab driver nearly hit them and called them a name, was inducted in the Lawrence Lions Alumni Association’s Hall of Honor in 1999.

He was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2006 and also has been inducted into the KU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Nieder, who briefly served in the U.S. Army, went on to a successful career developing and selling artificial turf.

He sold the synthetic track surface to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics organizers. It was the first synthetic track used in the Olympic Games and has become the standard.

Nieder also helped subdue a passenger who attempted to break into the cockpit of an American Airlines flight bound for San Francisco in May 2011 at age 77, according to federal authorities.

The Kansas City region has a deep, rich history with respect to the Olympic Games. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games approach with the Opening Ceremony scheduled for July 23, we will profile an athlete with ties to Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas each day.

41 Action News and KSHB.com is your home of the Tokyo Olympics. Follow our coverage at kshb.com/sports/olympics and check out our complete list of 100 Kansas City-area Olympians as it is revealed.

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