Wes Santee was born March 25, 1932, in Ashland, Kansas. Santee began running at a young age to and from school. In high school Santee was a two-time state champion in the mile. After graduating Santee received an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Kansas (KU) in 1949. Santee was one of three men at the time who were strong contenders to break the four-minute mile record. In 1952 Santee attended the Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Although he was qualified to participate in the 1500-meter and 5000-meter races, the Olympic committee decided that he could only compete in one and scratched him from the 1500, which was his stronger event. Although he failed to make the finals, Santee came back to the U.S. and won the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championships the following year. Santee was named an all-American in track in 1952, and cross-country in 1953. In 1953 Santee helped KU win the NCAA cross-country championships. Santee joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was allowed to continue participating in track events despite being in training. Santee graduated from KU with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1954. On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister of Great Britain, was the first to break the four-minute mile barrier. Although disappointed not to be the first, Santee continued to attempt to break the barrier as well. Santee held the American outdoor record for the mile with a time of 4:00.5, the world indoor record with a time of 4:03.8, and the world outdoor record for the 1500 with a time of 3:42.8.
Despite all his efforts, Santee would never officially break the four-minute mile. In 1955 the AAU suspended him for life after an investigation showed that Santee had taken money from AAU officials, over the $15 limit that athletes were allowed to receive. Although Santee protested the action, saying that it was AAU officials who had broken the rules, the court upheld the decision and Santee was not allowed to compete in the 1956 Olympics because of it.
Santee was inducted in the KU Athletics Hall of Fame, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame (2004), and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame (2005). After retiring from track and field, Santee ran an insurance business, and eventually retired from the Marine Corps Reserve. Santee died on November 14, 2010, in Eureka, Kansas, from cancer.
Entry: Santee, Wes
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: July 2012
Date Modified: January 2016
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