KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four-time Olympic medalist and two-time Olympian Thane Baker was born in 1931 in Elkhart, Kansas, and became one of the greatest sprinters of his generation.
He won a silver medal in the 200 meters at the 1952 Helsinki Games under Hall of Fame coach and Cass County native Brutus Hamilton.
Baker finished 0.1 seconds behind Andy Standfield, who tied Jesse Owens’ Olympic record (20.7), as part of a U.S. medal sweep.
Four years later, Baker collected two more individual medals and a relay gold at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
Baker kicked off his second Olympic appearance with a silver medal in the 100, getting nipped by teammate and triple-gold medalist Bobby Joe Morrow in the final.
During the 200, Baker — the world-record holder in the event entering Melbourne (20.6 seconds) — finished third behind Morrow and Stanfield for another U.S. medal sweep in the event.
Baker’s gold came in the 400-meter relay.
Ira Murchison and Leamon King staked the U.S. to an early lead, but King nearly botched the handoff to Baker as the Soviets closed the gap.
Baker remained composed around the final curve, restoring the lead as Morrow took the baton for the anchor leg, sprinting to the line in world-record time (39.5).
Baker also matched Owens’ world record in the 100 in 1956, though it wasn’t timed on three watches and was never ratified, and was part of the world-record 800 relay in 1956 and owned the 300-yard world record from 1956 to 1974.
Long after his Olympic career ended, Baker continued on the Masters Track and Field circuit, claiming five world age-group records.
Baker, who had metal shrapnel in his knee from a hammer accident in a shop when he was a freshman in high school, walked on to the Kansas State track and field team in 1950 after a campus-wide invitation from Hall of Fame coach Ward Haylett.
Within two years, Baker was an Olympian and capped his Wildcats career with an NCAA title in the 220-yard dash in 1953.
He finished as a six-time NCAA finalist — placing fourth in the 220-yard and fifth in the 100-yard in 1951, third in the 220 and eighth in the 100 in 1952, and second in the 100 in 1953 to go with his 220 title as a senior.
He joined the K-State ROTC, serving three in the Air Force after college and 27 in the Air Force Reserves, retiring as a colonel.
Baker was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1975, the KSHSAA Hall of Fame in 1977, the Kansas State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990, the USA Track and Field Masters Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Texas Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame in 2011.
The high school stadium in Elkhart was named in Baker’s honor.
Baker’s daughter, Catherine Baker Nicholson, was an NCAA Division II national title in the 800 for Rice University in 1981. His wife of 66 years, Sally, died in January 2021.
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.
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