It’s hard to believe I ran behind an Olympic Gold Medalist!
Dave Wottle was born in Canton, Ohio. He holds the NCAA outdoor track 1 mile record of 3:57.1, which he set in 1973. (The mile has not been an outdoor track event since 1975). He was Canton, McKinley HS and I Washington HS in Massillon, O. Hardcore football rivals!
I ran against Dave Wottle in I believe it was 1968 (my sophomore year) when we were both on high school track teams. I ran some kind of 4 minute something mile. I think he was also a sophomore at the time. I remember though (a couple years later) as a high school senior in 1970, Dave Wottle came in third in the Ohio HS State Meet with a 4:16.4
Later in the season as a young sophomore back in 68 I went on a trip to the Ohio JC Summer State Meet in Canton, Ohio, I came in 4th place in the state running that 4: something? Mile. I was proud of that and I was also awarded my 1970 numerals for my HS Jacket. Proud moment despite my ribbon being yellow!
Getting back to our mutual HS track meet I remember coming into the final lap of the mile run (the gun lap). I saw Dave drop off the track and was thinking he must have sustained an
injury. When the race was over and he got the first place ribbon, smiled, shook our hands and said “thanks for a great race” we realized- he beat us by an entire lap? A I/4 mile? He was so graceful, sportsman like. A really class act. We were too proud of him to let ourselves feel embarrassed or diminished. What a cool unassuming guy he was back in those days. Our compensation was wow, that guy should be in the Olympics!
Despite us thinking the whooping we took was in fact in our minds, only a slightly red faced race for the books? His greatest race, though, came shortly after he matched the 800 meter world record at the AAU championship meet leading up to the 1972 Olympic Games
You couldn’t miss him. In the finals of the 800 meter race at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, he was the only one wearing a cap. And he was all the way in the back of the pack. Wottle passes one runner after another until nipping the Soviet at the tape to win the gold!
Wottle, who retired from running three years later, likes to tell people the hat beat him into the U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame by five years. Traditionally a slow starter, Wottle was inducted in 1977.
I like to say when I look back, huh, he really was an Olympian! I was the distant shadow (1/4 mile back) of a real live American Hero. Okay so maybe it is a stretch but, I’m still proud of my 1968 – 4: something mile.