For the majority of Olympic athletes, the act of participation marks the peak of their athletic careers. A select number achieve greatness and climb the medal podium, while the rest, for whatever reason, fall short. Twenty-four-year-old Kenneth ‘Tug’ Wilson of Atwood, Illinois, qualified for the U. S. Olympic Team that traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, for the 1920 Summer Olympics. A multi-sport athlete at the University of Illinois, Tug—a nickname passed down from his father, Charles Wesley ‘Tug’ Wilson—played football and basketball for the Fighting Illini, but his prowess in track and field was what ultimately led him to his first, but not last, Olympic journey.
Tug, like so many others, fell short. He competed in the discus and placed 10th. However, while the result was disappointing, the experience itself proved invaluable and set into motion a career more significant than any winner’s medal. Thirty-five years after he departed the Antwerp Games, Tug returned to the Olympic arena and the Cortina 1956 Winter Olympics not as an athlete, but as the esteemed president of the United States Olympic Committee, a position he would hold from 1953 until 1965, cementing the second longest tenure among all USOPC presidents.
From his time as the AD of Drake University and as the commish of the Big Ten Conference, to Tug’s 12 years spent managing the American Olympic Team at six Summer and Winter Games (Cortina, Melbourne/Stockholm, Squaw Valley, Rome, Innsbruck, and Tokyo), this remarkable archive documents the lifetime achievements of a true champion of the Olympic spirit. Among the many rare and unique keepsakes are medals and badges, patches and pins, programs, tickets, photos, and even Tug’s original American passport and participant ID badge for the 1920 Summer Olympics.