Octogenarian an Olympic star

’56 gold medalist still a winner

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Move over, Missy Franklin, and make room for another Olympic gold medalist in your hometown — although he was here first, having moved to what is now Centennial 14 years before you were even born.

In 1956, Chuck Darling was on the American basketball team that beat Russia to take the gold in Melbourne, Australia.

“That was a real thrill,” he said. “It was the biggest thrill of my athletic career.”

Darling is 82 now, though he doesn’t look it. At 6 feet 7 inches, 230 pounds and sporting a size 16 shoe, he says he weighs the same as he did in high school but is an inch and a half shorter.

He’s not letting that physique go to waste. He’s a star at the Huntsman World Senior Games every year, competing in discus, shot put and volleyball; he gave up basketball at the age of 27.

“You have to be in a lot better shape to run up and down the court in basketball,” he jokes.

Despite a bicycle accident in March that required hip surgery, he qualified in October to go on to the National Senior Games next July — the equivalent of the Olympic Games.

“It slowed me down a little bit,” said Darling, whose affable personality makes it hard to believe he’s as competitive as he says he is.

Darling has been a star since high school, when he made All-State in Montana and at South High School in Denver. At the University of Iowa, he made All-Big Ten in 1951 and 1952 and was voted the league’s most valuable player in 1952.

Rounding out his college years, he made Phi Beta Kappa and met his wife, Kay — who fortunately cleared his 5-foot-6 requirement.

Darling graduated with a degree in geology and took a job with Phillips Oil, where he stayed for 29 years. Fortuitously, the company had a corporate basketball team, the Bartlesville Phillips 66ers, that competed in the National Industrial Basketball League, the precursor to the American Basketball League.

Success there earned the team the trip to the Olympics. Joining Darling were noted players Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, and former University of Colorado stars Burdie Haldorson and Bob Jeangerard.

“We had a great team that year,” he said. “In today’s game, we would probably have trouble. Everything has changed. In competition at all levels, there’s a higher level of play.”

The company paid for wives to tag along, but Kay said it was a hard decision to make, because their first baby was just three weeks old. Happily, both grandmas agreed to stay with the baby so she could be there for her husband.

“It’s a memory we’ll never forget,” she said. “It’s been a good life. … After 60 years, we’ve always had fun just being together.”

In between athletic feats, Darling finds fulfillment on another team — Littleton Sertoma.

“You have friendships, and together get involved in community services,” he said. “It gives me a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment to participate.”

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