SE: Four-Time Olympic Medalist Thane Baker Thankful for K-State's Impact

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on one’s blessings, from family to friends to fielding good health. For Thane Baker, those all apply to his life, but he also holds an endless amount of appreciation for K-State and for the path it set him on. 

Decades after walking on to K-State’s track and field team, becoming a four-time All-American sprinter and a four-time Olympic medal winner, Baker remains extremely thankful for his time (1951-53) as a Wildcat. 

“K-State gave me my life,” said Baker, a member of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, the KSHSAA Hall of Fame and the USATF Masters Hall of Fame. “I owe K-State a great deal. There’s no way I could ever repay K-State. That’s why I’m trying to give back when I can.” 

Baker, now living in Bellevue, Nebraska, gives back in about any way he can. The 85-year-old former Wildcat has served on the K-State Alumni board of directors and is still among its trustees. He’s seen the campus and the city transform in a multitude of ways, but one aspect of Manhattan, he said, has remained the same. 

“I still recognize the attitude here,” said Baker, recalling the reason he chose to attend K-State more than 60 years ago. “I visited KU and I just didn’t feel the atmosphere there that I felt when I came to K-State. This was home.

“It has not changed. You still have the same good people.”

Most recently, Baker returned to campus to take part in an Olympic panel discussion, hosted by K-State’s department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies, entitled “Being Fearless,” with fellow Wildcat Olympians in Erik Kynard, Jr., Ed Broxterman and Akela Jones.  

In the panel discussion, Baker addressed how he overcame his fear, which he said had less to do with breaking records and winning races and more to do with performing to the best of his ability. 

“I wanted to do my best, and I did everything I could to do my best, but I wasn’t afraid that I wouldn’t,” said Baker, who won a silver medal at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, and three more medals in the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia. “I just knew I was going to do the best I possibly could and that’s all I could hope for.”

Between Ward Haylett, the Wildcats’ track and field coach from 1929-63, and his high level of involvement on campus, Baker said K-State gave him “everything.” 

With an education focused on business, the Elkhart native found success off the track and spent 39 years working for Mobil. 

He also remained heavily involved in track and field. After turning 40, Baker competed for 25 years in the Masters Track and Field program, breaking numerous world records and traveling around the world to locations such as Cologne, Germany, and Rome, Italy, among many others. He has also worked the Texas Relays for the last 48 years, 45 of which he served as the meet’s starter. 

“I shot the gun and that’s about as close as you can get to the sprinting to start,” he said. “That kept me close to track.” 

As for Haylett’s influence, Baker said he gained a personal sense of accountability that has stuck with him his entire life. 

“You had to want to respond to Ward Haylett. He did not beat you over the head. He said, ‘This is what you need to do today,’ and he put it up on the chalkboard,” Baker said. “He said, ‘Here’s what you need to do,’ and then you had to report to him afterwards what you did. That’s the way he coached and, needless to say, why I owe him everything.

“Because you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. You have to approach life the same way. You know what you have to do and if you don’t do it then you have to answer to yourself.”