Record-Setting Track Star Wes Santee Dies at 78
Wes Santee, a record-setting track star who never ran the sub-four-minute mile expected of him and whose running career was ended by a suspension for accepting too much expense money, died Sunday at his home in Eureka, Kan. He was 78
The cause was cancer, his daughter, Susie, said.
Santee’s running accomplishments included American outdoor records of 4 minutes 0.6 seconds and 4:00.5 in the mile, a world indoor record of 4:03.8 in the mile and a world outdoor record of 3:42.8 at 1,500 meters. He was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2005. But he was probably best remembered for what he did not accomplish.
In the early 1950s, many experts predicted that the four-minute-mile mark would soon be broken and that three runners — Roger Bannister of England, John Landy of Australia and Santee, a University of Kansas senior — had the ability to do it.
On May 6, 1954, Bannister broke the barrier, running a mile in 3:59.4 in Oxford, England. On June 21 in Turku, Finland, Landy ran 3:58. Santee’s fastest career miles were 4:00.5, 4:00.6, 4:00.7, 4:01.2 and 4:01.3, the best by an American in his day but short of the magic mark.
While his international rivals were picking and choosing their races, Santee, 6 feet 1 inch and slender even for a miler, was sometimes racing three times in one day for his college team. When he heard about Bannister’s feat, he said: “I am not exceptionally disappointed. Having to compete for the university, I’ve had to run everything from soup to nuts. I haven’t been permitted to concentrate. I think I could beat Bannister if I had the chance.”