Bob Sieben Obituary

Bob Sieben, Track and Field Chairman for San Diego USATF from 1989 through 1995, long-time coach and athlete, died September 29. The following is his obituary from the San Diego Union.
October 4, 2002
By Jack Williams

His adventurous spirit inspired a five-month, 15,000-mile trip through Mexico and Central America and along the Amazon River.

He visited Alaska for a summer, supporting himself as a medical technician in the Aleutian Islands.

And he spent 14 years in Germany, where he developed fluency in the language, married a native and taught and coached the families of U.S. service personnel.

Yet, San Diegans knew Bob Sieben more for his travels around a track.

A standout half-miler and relay runner since he was a San Diego State student, he fared even better as a seniors competitor, winning an age-group national title in the pentathlon at 65.

Mr. Sieben, a native San Diegan and longtime educator, died Sunday at Scripps Memorial Hospital-La Jolla. He was 76.

The cause of death was complications from a stroke, said his brother, Gene.

After his 14 years in Germany, during which he visited nearly every country on the continent, Mr. Sieben returned to San Diego in the 1970s to teach and coach at San Diego City College.

As a founding member of The Friends of Balboa Stadium, he spearheaded a movement to install a world-class, nine-lane surface on the aging but storied track. Completed at a cost of more than $400,000, it was dedicated in 1987.

Although the stadium's limited seating capacity has prevented it from attracting major international and national events, the track continues to be a quality venue for regional meets and recreational runners.

It was on the refurbished Balboa Stadium track in 1991 that Mr. Sieben won his national senior pentathlon title, coming from behind in the 1500 meters to edge fellow San Diegan Jock Jacoy.

"Jock looked over his right shoulder, down the back stretch, and Bob passed him on his left," Gene Sieben said. "After that event, Bob hung up his spikes."

The 1500 was the final event in a pentathlon competition that included the javelin, discus, 200 meters and long jump.

While primarily a half-miler in college, with a 1:54.5 clocking as a senior, Mr. Sieben was a good enough athlete to play tournament badminton, seniors basketball and recreational tennis. At 5 foot 10 and 165 pounds, he played football and basketball at San Diego and Sweetwater high schools.

In 1977, he ran a 400-meter leg on a gold-medal-winning U.S. team in the 1,600-meter relay at the world masters track championships in Goteberg, Sweden.

Twenty-six years earlier, he had clocked a 48.6 quarter mile as an anchor man on the SDSU mile relay team, which won the Division II championships at the Texas Relays.

Mr. Sieben began his college track career at San Diego Junior College, the predecessor of San Diego City College, after serving two years in the Army during World War II. Assigned originally to a cavalry unit, he finished active duty with the Office of Strategic Services.

He competed in track in 1949 at Arizona State University, anchoring the Sun Devils' mile relay team to victory over some of his future teammates at SDSU.

"Bob and San Diego State's anchor man, Lloyd Schunemann, were neck and neck coming down to the tape, and Bob eked it out," his brother said.

The following year, Mr. Sieben transferred to SDSU, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physical education with a minor in art.

Before his senior year, he joined four Aztecs teammates on a trip along the Alaskan Highway to find work in Anchorage. He wound up landing a job as a medical technician on a small island, his brother said.

In 1958, Mr. Sieben planned a more challenging adventure with a buddy, Charlie Kahan. Beginning with a 15-hour bus ride in Mexico, the trip took him down the southern coast of Central America.

He explored the rain forests, mountains, villages and ancient ruins of Peru. He crossed the Andes and picked up the Ucayli River, which fed into the headwaters of the Amazon.

"They negotiated the length of the Amazon during the next three months on rafts and commercial barges, making frequent stops at friendly and some not-so-friendly villages along the way," Mr. Sieben's brother said.

Mr. Sieben chronicled his adventures which included surpassing an Amazonian village record by nearly 15 feet in a weight-tossing event in a travelogue published in the September 1959 edition of San Diego Magazine.

His next venture sent him to Germany, where he taught, coached football and track and operated a crafts center in Bremerhaven. He also competed in track events throughout Europe.

After marrying at age 44, he returned to San Diego with his wife, Kristin, and joined the San Diego City College faculty in 1977. Until becoming ill, he continued to teach bowling, badminton and tennis.

He and his wife divorced but recently had reunited, his brother said.

Survivors include son, Nik Sieben of San Diego; brother, Gene Sieben of San Diego; and a granddaughter.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Point Loma. Donations are suggested to the Harry West Scholarship Fund, in care of the San Diego City College Foundation.

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