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100 days of Kansas City-area Olympians: Ray Watson, track

Ray Watson.jpg
Posted at 8:00 AM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 09:00:32-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ray Watson was born in Garden City, Kansas, emerged as a champion track star at Kansas State and competed in three straight Olympic Games.

Despite losing his right hand in a shooting accident as a teenager, Watson — a graduate of Quincy (Illinois) High School — would become the first Wildcats athlete to compete at the Olympics, placing eighth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1920 Antwerp Games and the first to win an NCAA championship.

He won the mile in 4 minutes, 23.4 seconds during the inaugural NCAA Track and Field Championships in 1921 as a senior.

Watson returned to the Olympics three years later, finishing seventh in the 1,500 in 4 minutes flat at the 1924 Paris Games.

Few runners were willing to challenge legendary Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, who won nine gold and three silver medals in distance events during the Olympic Games from 1920 to 1928, in the event.

Watson was the only runner to stick with Nurmi through the first 800 meters of the race, which was run in 1:58.5, though he eventually faded from medal contention.

Less than an hour after winning the race, Nurmi returned to the track and won gold in the 5,000 meters as well.

As for Watson, he’d later run a personal record of 3:59.9 in the 1,500 and return to the Olympics again in 1928.

Watson made the final in the 800 at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, finishing seventh.

Among other distance-running exploits, Watson anchored the Illinois Track Club to a world record in the four-mile relay in 1923 — a record that stood for 13 years.

Astonishingly, Watson never made the track team while in high school at Quincy, but he returned after college as a math and chemistry teacher. He also coached the Blue Devils’ track and field team for 40 years and founded the annual Quincy Relays.

Watson was inducted into the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991 and also has been inducted in the Quincy High School Hall of Fame.

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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