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Olympic Sailing Gold Medalist Bill Bentsen Passes Away At 90

By Todd Kortemeier | Jan. 06, 2021, 11:48 a.m. (ET)

Bill Bentsen poses for a photo prior to the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964.


Bill Bentsen, a two-time Olympic medalist in sailing who spent his life helping to improve the sport, passed away Dec. 25 at the age of 90.

A Chicago native, Bentsen grew up sailing at the Lake Geneva Yacht Club in the 1940s, and by the early 1960s he had an idea he pitched to longtime friend and fellow Lake Geneva sailor Buddy Melges: they should try and enter the Olympic Games. In Tokyo in 1964, Bentsen served as crew with Melges at the helm as the duo took the bronze medal in the Flying Dutchman class.

Bentsen, who held a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin, was meticulous about working to improve the boat, studying film of their runs even in that early era. Bentsen and Melges won a gold medal at the 1967 Pan American Games, then achieved their greatest triumph at the Olympic Games Munich 1972 in the Soling class along with second crew member Bill Allen.

After his Olympic days, Bentsen became heavily involved in improving the rules of sailing. He was a member of the United States Sailing Association Racing Rules Committee from 1972 to 2008, and the 2005-2008 edition of the Racing Rules of Sailing was dedicated to him for his work. Many of racing’s modern rules are derived from Bentsen’s work in the 1970s and 1980s. Among many honors, Bentsen was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2017.

He is survived by his wife Ellen and two nieces.

Todd Kortemeier

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.