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Bob Richards, first to win two Olympic pole vault gold medals, dies

Bob Richards

(Original Caption) 7/24/1952-Helsinki, Finland- Pole vaulter Rev. Bob Richards of La Verne, California, hurdles earthward after clearing the bar during the pole vault event. Richards went on in the finals to set a new Olympic mark with a leap of 14 feet 11.14 inches.

Bettmann Archive

Bob Richards, the first person to win two Olympic pole vault gold medals, has died at age 97, according to USA Track and Field.

Richards “passed in his sleep peacefully surrounded by loved ones,” according to a Sunday social media post attributed to his son Brandon.

Richards earned bronze in his Olympic debut in 1948 in London, then gold in 1952 in Helsinki and in 1956 in Melbourne, part of a streak of Americans winning the men’s pole vault at the first 16 editions of the modern Olympics from 1896 through 1968.

He also competed in the decathlon in 1956 but did not finish.

Russian Yelena Isinbayeva is the only other person to win two Olympic pole vault titles, doing so in 2004 and 2008. Richards and Isinbayeva are also the only athletes to win three Olympic pole vault medals.

In 1958, Richards became the first athlete to appear on the front of a Wheaties box, according to General Mills. Many other athletes previously appeared on the box, but not the front.

Richards was the oldest living Olympic track and field champion before his death, according to Paul Tchir of the OlyMADMen. The oldest is now 96-year-old Jamaican George Rhoden, who won 400m and 4x400m titles in 1952.

The oldest living U.S. Olympian is 102-year-old swimmer Iris Cummings, believed to be the last living Olympian from the 1936 Berlin Games. She’s followed by Herb Douglas, the 1948 Olympic long jump bronze medalist, with Gordy Giovanelli, a rower from the 1948 Games, the oldest living U.S. Olympic gold medalist.