100 days of Kansas City-area Olympians: Wes Santee, track

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Posted at 8:00 AM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 09:01:07-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Wes Santee was the top miler in the U.S. during the 1950s, owning three of the four fastest times ever run in recorded history at one point.

Santee qualified in two events, the 1,500 meters — his strongest event — and 5,000 meters for the 1952 Olympics Games, but the U.S. Olympic Committee scratched him from the 1,500.

Instead, he only competed at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics in the 5,000 meters, failing to make the final.

Santee then lost his amateur status for allegedly accepting money above allowable expenses for appearing at races in 1955 and was barred from competing at future Olympic Games.

Santee was born in Ashland, Kansas, which is where his nickname “The Ashland Antelope” is derived.

He was a state record-setting miler and two-time state champion in high school at Ashland High School and went on to star at the University of Kansas in cross and track.

Santee helped KU cross country to a runner-up team finish as a freshman in 1951, placing 36th overall.

He won the 5,000-meter title at the 1952 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in a meet record 14 minutes, 36.3 seconds.

Runner-up Charlie Capozzoli from Georgetown also finished under the previous meet record — more than 9 seconds behind Santee.

Santee finished a distant 13th in his heat of the 5,000 at the Olympics that summer.

He returned to Kansas, where he won the mile at the NCAA track tourney as a junior in 1953.

The next fall, Santee added an NCAA cross country championship, giving three national collegiate titles during his Jayhawks career.

Serving as a senior captain, Santee also led KU to the program’s first and, so far, only NCAA cross country championship that year.

Santee was considered a serious threat to become the first man to break the 4-minute mile before Britain’s Roger Bannister did it on May 6, 1954.

Santee’s personal best was 4:00.55 in 1955, but he set four world records in other events.

Santee set world records in the indoor mile twice, first in 1954 (4:04.9) and again in 1955 (4:03.8) as well as in outdoor 1,500 in 1954 (3:42.8) and the indoor 1,500 in 1955 (3:48.3).

He also won four national AAU titles in the 1,500/mile and finished second in the 1,500 at the 1955 Pan American Games before his amateur status was revoked.

The AAU only permitted athletes to receive a $15 per diem at the time, but AAU officials reportedly paid Santee more than $1,000 to appear at three races in May 1955.

Santee has been inducted into the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and joined the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. He was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2005.

He died in Eureka, Kansas, in 2010.

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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