Wes Santee, a track star whose career ended when he was declared ineligible by the Amateur Athletic Union, died Sunday of cancer. He was 78.
Santee died at his home in Eureka, Calif., said his daughter, Susie.
Santee set world records in the 1,500 meters and the indoor mile. He also won NCAA championships in the mile and 5,000 meters, and won the NCAA cross-country championship in 1953 when his University of Kansas team won the team title.
Santee was best known for his competition with Roger Bannister of England and John Landy of Australia from 1952 to 1954 to be the first runner to break 4 minutes for the mile. Bannister eventually did it on May 6, 1954. Their battle was the subject of the 2004 book "The Perfect Mile" by Neal Bascomb.
"I am not exceptionally disappointed," Santee said the day Bannister broke the barrier. "There still is the challenge to see who will be the first American to break the 4-minute mile."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, November 18, 2010 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Wes Santee: The obituary of track star Wes Santee in the Nov. 15 LATExtra section said he died in Eureka, Calif. Santee died in Eureka, Kan.
But Santee never broke the 4-minute barrier. Don Bowden of UC Berkeley became the first American to accomplish the feat in 1957, after Santee's career had ended.
Santee made the 1952 U.S. Olympic team in the 5,000 meters, a distance he had run only a few times.
He was the best American at 1,500 meters that year, but AAU officials refused to allow him to compete for the Olympic team in that event on the grounds that he had already made the team in the 5,000 -- an arbitrary ruling that had no legal basis. Santee competed in the 5,000 meters at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, but didn't win a medal.
Santee's feud with the AAU culminated in 1956 when he was ruled ineligible for allegedly accepting too much expense money from meet promoters.
At one point, he had run three of the four fastest mile times in history. Then, in the Olympic year of 1956, the AAU declared him ineligible and ruled that anyone who competed against him would also be ineligible for amateur competition.
Santee, who was born March 25, 1932, in Ashland, Kan., served in the Marines after college and also worked in insurance. He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2005.
A list of survivors was not available.