He was the second man to pole vault 15 ft (4.6 m), and is the only two-time Olympic gold medal winner in the pole vault (1952 and 1956), with a bronze medal in 1948. He also was 13th in the 1956 decathlon. While a student at the University of Illinois, Richards tied for the national collegiate pole vault title and followed that with 20 national Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles, including 17 in the pole vault and three in the decathlon.
Richards later became involved in promoting physical fitness and continued to vault in his later years. He was the first athlete to appear on the front of Wheaties cereal boxes in 1958 (though not the first depicted on all parts of the packaging), and also was the first Wheaties spokesman, setting up the Wheaties Sports Federation, which encouraged participation in Olympic sports.
He had four sons who also were skilled pole vaulters; Brandon, held the national high school record at 18'2" for fourteen years from 1985; Tom won the CIF California State Meet in 1988; Bob, Junior was second in the same meet in 1968 and later ranked #7 in the USA in 1973.
Ordained in 1946 as a minister in the Church of the Brethren, he was elected to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983 and the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975. As he aged, Richards continued participating in Track and Field in a variety of events, particularly throwing events. He was one of the first regular participants in the origins of what now has become Masters athletics
In 1984, the Reverend Bob Richards ran for president of the United States on the newly formed far right, U.S. Populist Party ticket. He and running mate Maureen Salaman earned 66,324 votes. In 1988, that same party nominated white-supremacist David Duke for president. In 2010, Richards reportedly expressed support for a white nationalist political party called the American Third Position Party.
He and his wife now operate the Olympian Ranch in Gordon in Palo Pinto County in north central Texas, breeding miniature horses.
In 1957, the actor Hal Stalmaster played Richards as a teenager in an episode of the ABC anthology series Cavalcade of America.