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Bob Richards, the Vaulting Vicar who won two Olympic gold medals in pole vault, dies at 97

Bob Richards is shown during a training session in 1952, the year he won his first Olympic gold in pole vaulting.Anonymous/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Bob Richards, a two-time Olympic pole vault gold medalist who also was an ordained minister, died Sunday. He was 97.

USA Track and Field confirmed his death. His son, Brandon, wrote in a social media post that his father “passed in his sleep peacefully surrounded by loved ones.”

Richards competed at the 1948, ‘52, and ‘56 Olympics in the pole vault. He won a bronze medal in his first Olympic go-around, followed by back-to-back gold medals. The versatile athlete known as the “Vaulting Vicar” also competed in the Olympic decathlon in 1956.

Richards, of Champaign, Ill., was a six-time NCAA champion at the University of Illinois. The school said in a release he held the ranking as the No. 1 pole vaulter for eight consecutive years.

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Richards was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983 after a career that included winning at the Millrose Games 11 straight times. He also was the first athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties cereal.

In his Facebook post, Brandon Richards said his father began reading the Bible and preaching as a way to overcome his stuttering. He became a pastor who went all around to give lectures, leading to a career as a motivational speaker.

Wrote Brandon Richards, “We lost a national treasure,” adding that his father “always motivated us kids the same way to be the best we could be. He was the greatest dad I could ever ask for and I will miss him dearly.”