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Biathlon Olympian

Passing Date: 
Thursday, December 3, 2020

Olympian and biathlon sport leader William (Bill) Allen Spencer passed at his home on December 3, 2020 in Utah at age of 84.  Bill was born in Russellville, Alabama on June 23, 1936 to Elsie Josephine Martin and Thomas Aubrey Spencer and spent his early childhood in Bermuda.  At the age of twelve his family moved to Utah and while attending South High School, he and his brother spent their weekends skiing at Brighton. Bill joined the Junior ROTC in high school which provided him the chance to begin competitive shooting. After high school, he joined the Utah National Guard and attended the University of Utah where he was a member of the ski team, earning the Alf Engen Sportsmanship Trophy and NCAA All-American Honors in 1959.  It was at the University where he met Judith Aspden who became his wife when they were married on December 21, 1960. 


Bill Spencer at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics.

As a member of the Utah National Guard’s 19th Special Forces, he competed locally and nationally with the Rifle Team and combined his marksmanship and skiing skills, and began his interest in biathlon began when he packed up his skis and hunting rifle, took a Greyhound bus to Reno and then hitchhiked to Squaw Valley to participate in the 1959 North American Biathlon Championships which were also the Pre-Olympic test event.  He finished in 8th place and was hooked on biathlon.  He returned for the Olympic tryouts the following season but did not make the 1960 team, however he participated in the 1960 games as a fore-runner for the biathlon and cross-country events.  Determined to continue with biathlon he recognized the only way to do it would be to join the U.S. Army and train at its center in Alaska.  After military officer training he was recruited in 1963 and assigned to the U.S. Modern Winter Biathlon Training Center at Ft. Richardson.  What eventually became a 21-year military career Bill spent the early part of his career at the USMWBTC and was a two-time national biathlon champion in 1966 and 1967, the U.S. 30km Cross-country Ski Champion in 1965, and the second U.S. finisher for biathlon at both the 1964 Innsbrück and 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympic games at 30th and 37th places. 

Because Bill’s assignment to Vietnam was delayed so that he could participate at Grenoble, he was immediately reassigned to duty in Vietnam after the 1968 Games and arrived there just after the famous Tet offensive.  In 1972 he was temporarily released from his second tour in Vietnam to be the team leader for the U.S Biathlon team at Sapporo Olympic Games.  Bill became the first Director of the National Guard biathlon program serving from 1977 to 1984 where he helped to establish the strong infrastructure that helped survive the difficult years following the U.S. Army’s 1974 termination of its training center in Alaska.  He retired from the military in 1984 as a Lieutenant Colonel, serving as an Infantry Officer that included two tours to Vietnam.  His military honors include three Army Commendation Medals, two Bronze Stars, a Bronze Star with Valor, two Air Medals, and an Air Medal with Valor.  

Bill became one of U.S. Biathlon’s long-time coaches, focusing mostly on the range and shooting.  He was an athlete, coach, or team leader at more than seven Olympic Games and played a major role at the Salt Lake Games in 2002.  He also served on the USBA Board of Directors for many years and was the first American elected to the UIPMB (later IBU) Biathlon technical committee, serving from 1973 to 2002, officiating at numerous World Championships, World University Games, World Cups and was the technical delegate for biathlon at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.  Among many honors, Bill was awarded the 1966 Sports Illustrated Award of Merit and was inducted into the Hall of Fames of U.S. Biathlon in 2000, Utah Sports in 2003, University of Utah Crimson Club in 2004 and Intermountain Ski in 2004 and was recognized with the Pioneer of Progress Sportsman Award in 2001 and University of Utah Ski Archives History Maker Award in 2005. 

Bill is survived by Judy, his wife of 60 years and their three children and spouses: Bill Jr. and Eva Bertram, Santa Cruz, CA; Susan and Samuel Reckford, Short Hills, NJ; and Connie and Guy Adams, Salt Lake City, UT; grandchildren Spencer, Samantha, and Molly Reckford and Eric Spencer; brother Thomas Martin Spencer and wife Emmy, Boulder, CO, and their son Christian Juen, Innsbruck, Austria.

“Serving as a longtime coach and spiritual leader for the sport his greatest contribution was the pioneering work he made to grow biathlon in America.  It is hard to imagine that there is anyone who has been involved in biathlon in America between 1959 and 2002 who has not spent time with Bill and been inspired by both his passion for and knowledge of our sport,” said U.S. Biathlon President and CEO Max Cobb.  Biathlon was a central part of Bill’s life to which he blended his passion for skiing with pride of serving his country.  The U.S. Biathlon Association has established a memorial fund in Bill’s name – The Bill Spencer Fund for Developing Athletes, recognizing his lifelong contribution to biathlon in America.  Gifts in his honor may be made to U. S. Biathlon, 49 Pineland Drive, Suite 301 A, New Gloucester, ME 04260 or at www.teamusa.org/us-biathlon. --Art Stegen

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