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Dave Wottle – The Incredible Story of the 1972 Olympics 800-meter finals

Dave Wottle 1972 Olympics 800m Gold Medalist

As runners, we love celebrating the underdog, the runner that doesn’t give up, that gives everything they have in the moment.

In the 1972 Olympics, the men’s 800-meter final demonstrated that “never give up” attitude to a world-wide audience as American runner Dave Wottle quickly fell off the blistering pace set by the leaders over the first 200 meters.

Watch the rest of Dave Wottle Olympic 800 meter finals at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games on YouTube to see how Dave Wottle battled his way back into the race.

The Rest of the Dave Wottle Olympic 800 meter story…

Believe it or not, Dave Wottle actually ran almost the same exact pace for all four 200 meter sections of the race, holding a consistent pace around 26 seconds each 200 meters except for his final kick down the stretch. Wottle’s final kick in the last 100 meters was just enough to beat the Soviet Union’s Evgeny Arzhanov at the line by a mere 9 inches (or 0.03 seconds).

Wottle apparently was so in shock and surprised by his gold medal victory that he forgot to take off his icon golf cap during the medal ceremony and the playing of the United States national anthem. 

What’s more surprising about Wottle’s Olympic performance is that he was battling recurrent knee injuries up to the start of the Munich Olympics and there was some concern that he would not be able to race at that Olympic level.

If fact, the NY Times had an article about Wottle’s knee troubles and its potential impact on his Olympic hopes here. 

Wottle’s knee problems were due to a flare up of chronic knee tendonitis that he aggravated at a training camp right before leaving the U.S. for the Olympics. 

Dave Wottle 1972 Olympics 800m Gold Medalist

More about Dave Wottle

Dave Wottle was originally from Canton, Ohio and was the high school state champion at the mile.

Wottle then attended Bowling Green University in Ohio, where he was the 1972 NCAA champion in mens’ 1500 meter event. Wottle went on to hold a share of the world record in the mens’ 800-m race as well when he tied the world record of 1:44.2 at the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials.

Wottle started wearing his iconic golf cap mainly to keep his long hair out of his face when he ran. He became so used to wearing it that he forgot to take the cap off during the playing of the national anthem. Vice President Spiro Agnew sent a telegram to Wottle after his Olympic-winning performance that apparently said “Hat on or hat off, you’re the kind of American I respect.”

Wottle’s running career only continued for a few short years. He never competed in another Olympics, instead he turned professional in 1974, but injuries continued to limit his performance. He turned to coaching track at the college level as a coach at Walsh College (Ohio) and then Bethany College in West Virginia.

More Interesting Dave Wottle Facts:

Wottle was married just two weeks before the 1972 Munich Olympics and brought his new wife along with him to the Olympics. U.S. Olympic Track coach Bill Bowerman reportedly wasn’t pleased that Wottle brought his wife and that’s why ABC announcer Jim McKay made the comment “…some people said that he shouldn’t have gotten married. It was going to ruin him.. “

Dave Wottle, despite tying the 800-meter world record at the US Olympic trials, was not the favorite to win the gold. Yevgeny Arzhanov from the Soviet Union was the heavy favorite, having previously been undefeated at the 800-m distance in the three years leading up to the 1972 Olympics.

Dave Wottle also brought his college coach, Mel Brodt from Bowling Green to Germany to help him prepare for the Olympic Games.

Wottle wanted to focus on the 1500-meter Olympic race and added the 800-m race because the 800-m finals fell on the same day he was supposed to do a speed workout in preparation for the 1500-m Olympic finals

Wottle ended up not qualifying for the 1500-m Olympic finals, unable to qualify for the finals after finishing 4th in a very close semi-heat of the 1500 meters. Wottle finished the 1500-m semi-final heat with the same time of the second and third place finisher, but only the top three advanced to the 1500-meter Olympic finals.

Wottle’s time in the first heat of the mens’ 1500-meter Olympic race would have qualified him for the finals if he had ran the same time in the semi-finals.

Wottle’s best times were 1:44.3 for the 800-m (tying the world record at the time), 3:36.2 for the 1500m and 3:53.3 for the 1 mile race.

Got knee pain?

All runners know that running injuries like Dave Wottle’s knee pain from tendonitis can be frustrating and can limit both your enjoyment and running performance.

If you want to see how to keep your knees healthy, check out our Running Injury Guides and our Running Mobility Guides to keep you running.

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