By: Greg McCune

Thane Baker is essentially the most adorned Olympic observe and subject athlete in Ok-State historical past, having gained a silver medal within the 200 meters at Helsinki in 1952 and a gold, silver and bronze medal at Melbourne in 1956.

However his exceptional achievements, beginning at age 20, would possibly by no means have occurred if he hadn’t met legendary Ok-State observe coach Ward Helett on the outdated Nichols fitness center his freshman yr in Manhattan.

“He put an article within the newspaper soliciting curiosity in a observe crew,” Baker, who will flip 90 later this yr, mentioned in an interview from his house close to Omaha, Nebraska.

Utilizing a 16-millimetre projector, Helett gave a presentation to college students about observe and subject at Ok-State and after talks met face-to-face with these keen on becoming a member of the crew. When Helett heard Baker’s story of being an underachieving runner for Elkhart Excessive Faculty in western Kansas, Helett invited him to run.

“‘We’d have the ability to make a quarter-miler out of you,'” Baker recalled Helett saying on the time.

Thus started a partnership that will develop Baker into among the finest sprinters on the earth. He equaled Jesse Owens’ very long time of 10.2 seconds within the 100 m, setting a world-record of 20.6 seconds within the 200 m on a curved observe in 1956, which nonetheless ranks him on the Ok-State all-time checklist 65 years later. Will give third place. Later

Nevertheless, going to that assembly in Nicholls, Baker had overcome a significant impediment which will have derailed his working profession.

In October of his freshman yr in highschool, Baker mentioned he was working on the Ford storage in Elkhart tearing aside some picket containers with two hammers. A bit of metal got here out of the top of the hammer and went contained in the knee joint.

A surgeon in Hays, Kansas, tried however couldn’t get Steele out. So Baker has been dwelling with it ever since. He believes that the timing of crutches and surgical procedure set again his athletic improvement. He didn’t resume enjoying sports activities till his junior yr in highschool.

Baker mentioned, “That leg wasn’t very sturdy due to a couple of years of inactivity. Possibly that is why it took me some time to get stronger and sooner.”

He additionally believes {that a} consider his improvement was that his proper leg grew greater and stronger than his left leg with metal within the knee. The fitting leg is pushing laborious on the 200m curve, which Baker considers fortunate.

Some biographies of Baker say that his left leg was shorter than his proper, however they are saying that is misinformation. The Ok-State coach measured them and mentioned they have been those.

On the state meet in Wichita his senior yr in highschool, Baker mentioned he barely made the finals and positioned sixth in each the 100- and 220-yard dashes.

Even when he joined the crew at Ok-State, he was not instantly allowed to compete. Freshmen weren’t eligible in these days, so he solely practiced with the varsity and was anticipated to assist the older guys throughout coaching.


Day by day, Helett placed on the chalkboard the coaching schedule for every group. Baker at all times did greater than the coach instructed.

Baker mentioned, “If we have been to run six 220-yard dashes at a given time, I might run the seventh sooner.”

From at this time’s perspective it’s stunning that Baker didn’t carry weights throughout his profession.

“The coach mentioned do not do any weight coaching. It’s going to construct you up in muscle. And do not do swimming. It’s going to get your muscle tissue used to sluggish actions,” Baker mentioned.

However Baker mentioned he knew instinctively that he wanted to get stronger, so he would do leaping jacks, pushups, setups and workout routines each day.

Lastly, after his freshman yr led to Might, he was allowed to attend the AAU meet in Kansas Metropolis. He gained the 100, 220, ran on the dash relay and was the meet’s excessive level scorer.

Baker started to imagine that he could possibly be an excellent collegiate sprinter.

“My timing wasn’t that nice,” he mentioned. “It by no means crossed my thoughts that I could possibly be on the Olympic crew in two years.”

Baker credit one other facet of his coaching program that helped him enhance – “rabbits.”

Dick Towers was a half-miler on the Ok-State crew, a halfback on the soccer crew, and likewise a very good quarter-miler.

“That was my rabbit,” mentioned Baker.

They’d line up straight and begin working with Towers 5 yards forward. They ran at a clean three-quarters tempo, then the baker would shout “seven-eighths” and they might velocity up. Lastly, Baker would shout “Hit It” and the race was on.

He needed to overtake Towers by the tip of the 100.

“You’ll be able to study to run quick if you actually kick it and develop,” Baker mentioned.

The Olympic qualification course of in 1952 required that he end within the high six on the NCAA or AAU nationwide championships or place first in navy service competitions. Baker completed third within the NCAA within the 200m and was additionally licensed by way of the AAU.

The 100 m trials occurred earlier on 27 June and he was out of the preliminary spherical however didn’t end within the high three of the ultimate. The following afternoon, 13 males ran the 200 meters for six spots within the remaining, and Baker superior.

Baker mentioned he constructed up his stamina by training 220s with quick breaks to outlive two 100- and two 200-meter races over two days. Baker was not anticipated to make the crew in 1952, however his philosophy was that on any given day anybody might beat anybody.

Some years have a dominant sprinter, as most just lately in Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, at a number of Olympics. However in 1952, Baker was lucky that the American crew within the 200m was extensive open.


Thane Baker

To the shock of many, Baker completed second within the trials within the 200 m remaining, which was solely an hour after the preliminary spherical.

As a junior in school, he went to Helsinki, Finland, for the 1952 Olympics.

“I used to be 20 years outdated and I used to be a wide-eyed child from western Kansas,” Baker mentioned. “I can’t categorical what a cultural shock it was.”

None of his household obtained an opportunity to go to the Helsinki Olympics. In truth, his father was by no means capable of take day off from work to observe him run.

Baker did not suppose Coach Haylett would even be in Helsinki, however the folks of Manhattan put collectively a set so the Ok-State observe and subject coaches might go to the Olympics and see Baker run.

In the course of the two days of Olympic competitors, Haylett watched Baker progress from the preliminaries to the quarterfinals, semifinals, and remaining from atop the stands close to the beginning line of the 200 meters.

Baker gained the silver medal within the largest race of his life. Haylett quietly walked outdoors the stadium and waited for Baker by the transportation bus. What a shock to Baker that his coach was parked 5,000 miles from house.

Haylett mentioned he had not informed Baker as a result of he didn’t wish to distract her earlier than the race, and due to a rule stopping members of the US crew from talking to coaches aside from their Olympic coach.

Baker raced all around the world at an exhibition meet and one other Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, the place she gained a gold within the 4×100 relay, a silver within the 100 m, and a bronze within the 200.

He had an extended profession within the oil trade and was instrumental in growing the US Masters observe and subject program for athletes who wish to compete lengthy after their elite careers are over. Baker competed in Masters observe meets all around the world from the age of 40 till the age of 65.

He joined the Air Drive after Ok-State, married Ok-State scholar Sally Doyle in 1954, and at his second Olympics in Melbourne in 1956, she was there to cheer him on. Sally handed away in January 2021, after 66 years as a driving pressure in Thane’s life and touring companion.

His daughter, Katherine Baker Nicholson, was a standout 800-meter runner at Rice College and gained the Division II nationwide championship in 1981.

She is going to compete with Baker on the 2021 Huge 12 Out of doors Observe and Discipline Championships in Manhattan this weekend, as her father returns to the place the place his journey within the sport started.

Becker mentioned that the Helsinki expertise opened the world to him and altered his life.

“It is laborious to explain how inspiring this was for me,” Baker mentioned.

Pictures courtesy of the personal assortment of the Baker household.

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