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Cap Nearly Keeps the Lid on His Feat

September 02, 2002|John Ortega

Dave Wottle is the last U.S. runner to win the men's 800 meters in the Olympic Games, but he might be remembered as much for the cap he wore as for his thrilling, come-from-behind victory in the 1972 Games in Munich.

Wottle, a 52-year-old Ohio native, began wearing a cap in the summer of 1971 to help keep the sun out of his eyes while he ran.

"The cap acted as a sun visor," said Wottle, the dean of admissions and finance at Rhodes College in Memphis since 1983. "It was a practical thing to wear."

Wottle was regarded as a miler entering the 1972 Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., but the then-Bowling Green junior shocked himself and those in attendance when he tied the world record of 1 minute 44.3 seconds in the 800.

"I really ran the [800] as a speed workout before the 1,500," Wottle said. "I didn't even know what the world record was before the race."

After missing 2 1/2 weeks of training with tendinitis in his left knee a month before the Games, Wottle started tentatively in the Olympic final and trailed the leaders by 10 meters after the first 200.

He moved into sixth place after 600 meters and figured he was running for the bronze medal as he entered the home straightaway trailing the Soviet Union's Yevgeny Arzhanov and Kenya's Mike Boit and Robert Ouko, all of whom were favored.

" 'I'm going to try and get the bronze,' " Wottle said to himself.

"Then after passing [Ouko]," he added, "I thought I had a chance at the silver. I didn't think about the gold medal until 15-20 meters to go when I could see that Arzhanov was really tiring."

Wottle passed a stumbling Arzhanov just before the finish line, and both were credited with times of 1:45.9.

"I ended up getting a perfect race thrown at me," said Wottle, who later apologized for forgetting to take off his cap on the medal stand during the playing of the national anthem. "They all went out so fast that they came back to me at the end."

John Ortega

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