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100 days of Kansas City-area Olympians: William Becklean, rowing

William becklean Olympian
William Becklean-Gold-Crew-1956.jpeg
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Posted at 8:00 AM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 09:00:11-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — William Becklean was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1936, and struck Olympic gold 20 years later.

He went to high school at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he participated on the wrestling and rowing teams, before moving on to Yale University for his undergraduate studies.

It was during his time in New Haven, Connecticut, that Becklean emerged as a star coxswain for the Bulldogs rowing crew.

Beacklean, or “Beck” for short, coxed all four years at Yale.

After his sophomore year, the Yale varsity eight won the U.S. Olympic Trials, earning a berth to the 1956 Melbourne Games.

William Becklean-Gold-Crew-1956.jpeg
William Becklean (front, squatting) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1936, and struck Olympic gold 20 years later. He started rowing as a student at New Hampshire's prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy and emerged as a star coxswain for the Yale University men's eight, which won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.

The U.S. had sent an eight-man rowing team to the Olympics nine times and won gold each time entering the first Olympic Games in Australia.

But the Yale team had returned home for the summer after winning the Olympic Trials in July, having no money to stay together and train for the Melbourne Games in late November.

As a result, the U.S. finished third in its opening heat and had to win the repechage to earn a berth in the semifinals.

With two races under their belts, the U.S. team began rounding into form, easily making the final along with Australia from the first semifinal heat with the fastest time.

Australia and Canada battled for the lead early in the medal race, but Becklean and the U.S. squad surged to the front during the last half of the race and won the gold medal, keeping U.S. dominance in the event intact.

However, the U.S. have only won two gold medals in men’s eights (1964 Tokyo, 2004 Athens) since Becklean and his team’s triumph.

Becklean donated his gold medal to Phillips Exeter Academy in 2018 so it “wouldn’t end up in somebody’s sock drawer,” he told The Exeter Bulletin for a story on the gift.

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William Becklean was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1936, and struck Olympic gold 20 years later. He started rowing as a student at New Hampshire's prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy and emerged as a star coxswain for the Yale University men's eight, which won a gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Games. Becklean donated his medal to Phillips Exeter Academy in 2018.

After studying electrical engineering at Yale, Becklean went on to earn an master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School and later worked on a variety of projects for the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program before entering the securities business.

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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