Class of 2017: Bill Bentsen

Published on August 8th, 2017

The U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame selected eight people in 2017 to join the 57 previously-recognized individuals who have been enshrined since the first class in 2011.

Among this group to be officially inducted on September 24 is Bill Bentsen (Winnetka, Ill./Lake Geneva, Wisc.), a two-time Olympic medalist – bronze in 1964 and gold in 1972 – who has created an indelible legacy for the sport through his contributions as a racing rules and race administration expert.

This tribute is provided by 2011 inductee Gary Jobson:


In the early 1960s, Bill Bentsen, who was in his early 30s, suggested to long-time friend and fellow scow sailor, Buddy Melges, that they consider trying for an Olympic berth for the 1964 Games in Japan. Buddy had won the Mallory Cup and been named the first US Yachtsman of the Year in 1961.

Bentsen was a meticulous organizer who had earned a Ph.D. in economics a few years earlier. He saw something in Melges that was unique in sailing, a gifted natural sailor who could make any boat go fast. Bill suggested that they pair up for an Olympic effort in the Flying Dutchman class.

At their first major international regatta after only a few practice races, Buddy remarked, “With all the boat tuning going on, boy, are we out of touch!” Bill answered, “Don’t be too sure about that.” They were close in speed to the top boats and spent the next winter practicing and working on their boat and easily won the U.S. trials.

One of their training techniques was to watch movies of their races. (There were no coaches in those days). At the Games they earned a bronze medal. Eight years later they set their sights on another Olympic effort in the new Soling Class. Bill Allen joined as the third member of their crew and they went on to win a gold medal in Germany in 1972.

From that point Bentsen turned his talents to improving sailing. Many of the Racing Rules of Sailing and race management procedures used today are a direct result of Bentsen’s work in the 1970s and 1980s. He has received World Sailing’s highest honor, the Beppe Croce Award, and US Sailing’s highest honor, the Nathanael Greene Herreshoff Award.

Throughout several decades of service, he used his sailing experience to provide a practical framework for the rules, appeals and race committee methods. During this period Bentsen wrote extensively about his ideas that have become a part of the fabric of the way sailing is managed today.

In addition to his Olympic medals, Bentsen was a champion in ice boats and a variety of scows. Early in his career he was a college professor before joining the US Yacht Racing Union as Director of One Design Sailing. His teaching ability was an asset as he worked to convince yachting authorities to adopt his proposed improvements to sailing’s regulations.

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