It was¬†onlyfitting that the tattered white golf cap Dave Wottle wore while racing made itinto the U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1977, five years before he did.He was always a slow starter, underestimated and often overlooked--untilSept.¬†2, 1972, when he won the 800 meters at the Munich Olympics with oneof the most memorable kicks in track history. Today, as dean of admissions atRhodes College in Memphis, the 56-year-old Wottle often spots students who riseabove mediocre grades. Says Wottle, "I have to have an eye for hiddenqualities."
At his racingweight of 139 pounds, Wottle was gaunt and awkward. He missed most of the twoyears before Munich with injuries and hadn't much to show for his recoveryperiod except the hat, which he got for working as a race official. Little wasexpected of Wottle, especially by U.S. coaches, who chided him for marrying hisOhio sweetheart, Jan, a month before the Games and then honeymooning at theOlympics. "I had to make sure something went right on that trip," hesays with a laugh, "and I couldn't count on the race." But rallyingfrom last place with 300 meters to go, Wottle passed the entire 800 field tonip Evgeni Arzhanov of the Soviet Union, who'd been unbeaten for four years.Wottle was so excited he forgot to remove his hat on the medal stand.
He retired fromrunning in 1976, but at 174 pounds Wottle looks more athletic today than he didas an Olympian--not bad for a father of three and grandfather of four who'scelebrating his 35th wedding anniversary this summer.
At a fund-raiserthis spring, Wottle met Alan Webb, the country's top young middle-distancerunner, who wanted to pick the brain of the man under the cap. "I wastouched," says Wottle. "I thought people would have forgotten longago."
July 1, 2007
Wottle absent-mindedly kept his lid on during the medal ceremony in Munich.