‘Wottle the throttle’ as he was later known as in his career – with the finishing kick of a gazelle he was infamous for sitting off the pace, and storming the last 100m, perfectly timed to claim his victories by the smallest of margins.
Athlete identity is as key to their remembrance as the titles they claimed. Edwin Moses had his coral necklace, round glasses and crazy hair – Dave Wottle had his cap. Most famous for his 800m race in the 1972 Olympic games, he is noted as the man who wore a cap on the podium, which surprisingly enough was means for him to make a public apology, as many people deemed it disrespectful to the nature of the games.
A talented athlete, he first earned his prowess on the Collegiate stage, competing for Bowling Green State University – claiming multiple medals in the Mile and 1500m on the NCAA scene, before graduating in 1973 with a Bachelors of science in history. It wasn’t till after his collegiate years where Wottle discovered his innate talent over the 800m, and the global dominance that would come with that.
Leading up to the 1972 Olympic Games, Wottle comfortably won the U.S Olympic trials, demonstrating his current form by equaling the world record of 1:44.3 – giving him confidence to claim his place on the podium at the Olympic Games. During the final, Wottle worried the American fans by setting off well behind pace, almost 20m behind the rest of the field after the first 100m. He stayed at the back of the pack for the first 500m, then started to up the pace and take over the other athletes, one by one. In the final stretch, it still looked like Wottle had left it too late, with multiple athletes still ahead of him, he had to swing wide and really dig deep. Arguably one of the most impressive 800m finishes (Before the 2004 Olympic final – a tale for another day), Wottle took it right to the line, just pipping the Soviet Unions Yevgeny Arzhanov by 0.03 seconds, who crossed the line with a dive in a final desperate attempt to hold off the storming American.
The video of the race is still on YouTube, and I highly suggest you see it, it is hard to appreciate the heart and commitment Wottle portrayed in that final until you see it for yourself. Wottle was not a professional athlete at the time he claimed the gold, and did not turn professional until 1974 – however this was short lived, and with an early retirement from competing, he became a college track coach, coaching in Ohio and West Virginia.
Born August 7th, 1950, Wottle set personal bests in the 800m, the 1500m and the mile of 1:44.3, 3:36.2 and 3:53.3 respectively. With his only global medal coming from the 1972 Munich Olympics, Wottle sure gave us a race of the ages, still inspiring the world almost 50 years on.