Utah biathlon standout Bill Spencer, an Olympic athlete and coach, dies at 84

Photo courtesy of the Alf Engen Museum Bill Spencer shakes the hand of a military official while wearing an International Military Sports Council jacket circa 1960. Spencer, a two-time U.S. Olympic biathlon athlete and U.S. Army officer, died Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, at age 84.

Bill Spencer, who went from Bermuda to the United States Biathlon Association’s Hall of Fame, died Thursday from natural causes at age 84.

Spencer, a graduate of Salt Lake City’s South High and a former University of Utah student, dedicated most of his life to the sport that combines cross country skiing and rifle shooting.

Born in Alabama, Spencer spent most of his childhood in Bermuda before moving to Utah when he was 12. As an athlete, he won three straight United States national titles in 1965-67 and also won the Canadian national championship in 1966 and ’67. He twice made the U.S. Olympic team, in 1964 and ’68, finishing middle of the pack but among the top Americans in all three of his races.

Though retired from competition, Spencer returned to the Olympics as a coach every year from 1972 to 1984. He worked as the U.S.Shooting coach from 1976-1982 and bookended those with tours as team leader in 1972 and 1988.

Photo courtesy of the Alf Engen Museum Bill Spencer and an unidentified teammate undergo biathlon training circa 1960. Spencer, a two-time U.S. Olympic biathlon athlete, died Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, at age 84.

Also during that time, from 1963-1984, Spencer was enlisted in the U.S. Army. He joined shortly after missing the cut for the 1960 Olympics so that he could train at its biathlon center in Alaska. That led to 23 years of service and two tours of duty in the Vietnam War as an infantry officer. He was awarded three Bronze Stars, three Air Medals and three Army Commendation Medals before retiring from the service as a Lieutenant Colonel.

When the Olympics came to Utah in 2002, Spencer worked as the deputy chief of competition for biathlon. The International Biathlon Union also hired him as its technical director for the 1998 Olympic Games and for several world championships and World Cups.

He was inducted into the U.S. Biathlon Association Hall of Fame in 2000, received the IBU Bronze Medal of Honor in 2002, was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Intermountain Ski Hall of Fame in 2004.

Return to Story