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16th Jan, 2024, Alastair Aitken

Perhaps, the most sensational Olympic 800m Final ever held was in 1972 at the Munich Olympic Stadium when, I saw ‘The Head Waiter’ with the white golfing cap on, snatch victory, after being very well back in the field for the majority of the race. Before we go into seeing what happened in the race and Dave Wottle’s training for the event was, particularly for the BMC readers, it might be of interest to know what he was doing towards the end of his working life. He has pride in being married to Jan and, their three children plus five grandchildren. His final assignment was as an administrator at Rhodes College from 1983 to 2012. His talent did not go to waste when he retired from competing and, from 1975-77 he was the college track coach at Walsh College, Ohio. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1982.

Despite some injury problems, prior to Munich, he won the USA Trials 800 in a World record equaling time of 1:44.3 and was followed home by Rick Wohlhuter (1:45.0) & Ken Swenson (1:45.1).

In the Olympic final Wottle had a loaded field to run against; 1971 European Champion Yevgeniy Arzanov (USSR); 1969 European Champion Dieter From (GDR); 1970 Commonwealth Champion Robert Ouko (Kenya); Mike Boit (Kenya); Franz-Joseph Kemper (West Germany); Andre Kzypczyk (Poland) and Andy Carter (GB-3rd in the 1971 European).

In Munich Mike Boit had run the fastest semi-final in 1:45.87. Off they went in the Final, with Ouko & Boit taking the lead at 200 in 26.7; Wottle was back behind the seventh runner. They went through the 400 with Ouko leading in 52.3. 10m back in last place you could see, wearing his White cap, was Dave Wottle, going through in 53.5. Arzhanov quickly moved from sixth to lead with 300 to go. He was still very strong going into the home straight ahead of Ouko & Boit. As things got closer Wottle came out and accelerated with his famous ‘Wottle throttle’ to overtake first Ouko then Boit and, Arzhanov started to tire and Wottle rushed past him but it was very close, as he was only 3/100ths of a second clear of Arzhanov. Spectacular as that was and, it usually worked with his catch up tactics with fast finishes, it was too late in his semi-final of the Olympic 1500 and he got eliminated. The First six in the 800 Final were 1 Dave Wottle 1:45.86; 2 Yeveniy Arzhanov 1:45.89; 3 Mike Boit 1:46.01; 4 Franz-Joseph Kemper 1:46.50: 5 Robert Ouko 1:46.53; 6 Andy Carter 1:46.55. Regarding the 800 I said to Dave Wottle. “It looked to me in the stand that you nearly left it too late?”

“I almost did” was his reply to that.

Who then were his big dangers?

“Everybody was my big danger because I did not feel that good coming down the stretch. I was just more or less trying to get a medal 100m out. With 50m to go I was trying to get second place, trying to pass the Kenyans; then 20 metres from the finish Arzhanov was slowing or tightening up so I tried for the win. I knew it was going to be close.”

Mike Boit gave me his thoughts on the race. “Ouko & I were boxed in by Arzhanov when he went to the front. I had some energy and could have gone ahead of Ouko but I did not want to because then he would have had to go round everybody else. I really got very annoyed as I saw my chances slipping away and when I came into the straight I started to pull out again. I was getting closer and closer. I thought I had beaten Arzhanov and I was looking at Wottle to see if I could beat him. It was a very tight finish.”

I would like to point out Wottle was also a very good miler as well as an 800 man. On the 26th of June 1973 he ran 3:53.3 and beat Steve Prefontaine 3:54.6 at Eugene with Eire’s John Hartnett 3rd in 3:54.7.

Dave Wottle spoke about his tactics at the American Championships “Basically the same as all my other races. I stuck behind and simply kicked down the straightaway. It was a competitive race for me and I

like that type of race when I can ‘rely’ on my kick. Not really much different to the trials. It was more or less just stick on the guys’ shoulder in the last 100 then kick like crazy.”

He gained a Bachelor of Science Degree at Bowling Green University, where he was educated when I talked to him at the Olympics and, cross-country was an important part of his programme “At Bowling Green we have a great team spirit and I enjoy cross-country running because, I am with these guys on our team.; we have a lot of fun in cross-country. But I know I have to run cross-country to get the strength, because I am not really that physically strong. I started out on my comeback about May to June last year. When I came back to school early September we did about 120 miles a week for the first 2 weeks then we slacked off to when we had weeks to where we had a base of 90 to `100miles a week; then when the Championships came up we dropped to 75 to 80 miles a week”


“ I met Mel Brodt at college and I am still under him right now. He uses’Moderated Marathon System’ that Snell used and he is a very good coach, very intelligent about track. He plans all my workouts and I have great faith in his judgement.”.

Cross-country to track

“ We took off about a month then started track-indoors. I like indoor running a lot because of the type of running where I have the acceleration. You need a medium or short stride and you need to have quick acceleration because of the turns. I had a pretty successful indoor season, once I started going but I was a little out of shape at the beginning and I got beaten once—3rd in the Millrose Games in New York”

It must have helped make him sharp early on?

“Not too sharp, but sharp. I ran 2 miles indoors in 8:58 & 8:39 but I mostly specialized in the mile. I went in the 880 in the Nationals because of our team situation. I had also had to go in the Distance medley relay, and it worked out really well because we tied for 2nd for the Nationl, which is unbelievable for Bowling Green because we have never done anything like that. We have a fabulous close knit team, including Sid Sink (American record holder in the steeple); he is the really big organizer who really gets us going.”

In the Spring

“ In the spring we more or less start peaking for our relay season which is early April. We come to a peak then slack down again then peak for the Championships. I would say a typical week would be 75 to 90 miles; it rarely varies during the season. Our work outs are a system of hard-Hard-Hard, Easy-Easy-for a week.”

More details on his training methods

“ There are the things I would use if I coached, and I plan on coaching and teaching. Monday is a distance day when we do mile and 2 mile repeats. Tuesday is a speed day. we’ll do 440 stuff. Wednesday-- a pace day; we will do various things from 330 to 660’s. Thursday—we start slackening off Friday –we slacken off—Saturday we have a race.

It’s almost that way every week because we have races every Saturday or Friday. At Bowling Green meets I do I might do the mile, half, and relay triple. Maybe one meet I may just do a 3 mile. I usually do the mile, half and relay triple because it gets the most points for our team and it does not really bother me that much as I am used to running 3 races in one day. They are all wthin 45 minutes of each other.”

That must re-charge the batteries and prevent him becoming stale?

Right, we schedule our workouts so that we have that ability; I don’t like to go to a meet and run one race—I think it is a waste of my time! I feel lousy all week if I go into one race and lose it.”

“Before you first started running seriously as a Freshman and you were in high school in Ohio wer, you inspired at the time by seeing any top runners or reading about them?

“ I was not really a track fan. I did not know anything about track at the time. I knew the Ohio high school runners and I had heard about Ryun. My Mum was always reading out from the papers—Jim Ryun did this, Jim Ryun did that! so I kind of admired him.”