Former Kansas Track Great Wes Santee Passes Away

Nov. 14, 2010

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Legendary University of Kansas track star and former Olympian Wes Santee died Sunday morning at the age of 78.

Regarded as one of the world’s greatest distance runners in the 1950s, Santee, of Ashland, Kan., was a three-time U.S. outdoor champion and set the world record in the outdoor 1,500 meters in 1956, the indoor mile record twice (1954 and 1955) and the indoor 1,500 meter record (1955). Santee was a well-known international athlete and was among an elite group of runners that pushed the four-minute mile barrier.

In his career at Kansas, Santee won three NCAA individual titles, including the 5,000, the mile and a cross country championship. Santee also led the cross country team to its first and only NCAA team championship in 1953.

Santee produced what was arguably his most impressive collegiate feat during a three-race performance against the University of California at Berkeley in 1954. In that meet he won the 880 yards in 1:51.5, the mile in 4:05.5 and ran the 440-yard relay leg in 48-flat.

Santee (right)

Santee (center)

Santee was a member of the 1952 Olympic team. He competed in the 5,000 meter run in Helsinki. In 1953, Santee was named the nation’s most outstanding athlete by the Helms Foundation.

Santee was inducted into the State of Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2005. Santee is immortalized in statue form, along with other KU track stars Glenn Cunningham and Jim Ryun, at The Legends in Kansas City, Kan., and Rim Rock Farm, home of the Jayhawk cross country team.

“This past September Wes and I had a very good visit at a Kansas football game.” said Jim Ryun, another former Kansas track standout. “I know he has had peace while fighting this battle with cancer. He was not a quitter by any stretch of the imagination. Wes attended every track meet he could, never missing the Kansas Relays. (My wife) Anne and I, along with the KU track family will miss him.”

Santee, who was a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was a 1950 graduate of Ashland (Kan.) High School, where he was a two-time state champion in the mile run and once in cross country.

“Wes Santee was one of KU’s all-time greats, not just in track and field, but in the history of Kansas athletics,” said KU interim athletics director Sean Lester. “He loved KU and the entire Kansas family will miss him. Our hearts go out to his family.”

He was born March 25, 1932, in Ashland, Kan., and graduated from the University of Kansas in 1954.

“Wes’s success is a huge part of the KU tradition,” said Jayhawk head track coach Stanley Redwine. “He will be missed by the KU family and our prayers and thoughts go out to his family.”