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Dave Wottle — April, 2010
Dave Wottle won the Gold Medal in the 1972 Olympic 800 meter run in Munich, Germany by 0.03 seconds in a time of 1:45.9. He set the World Record for 800 meters of 1:44.3 at the 1972 AAU Championships. At the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships Dave won the 1,500 meters in 1972 and the mile in 1973 in an NCAA record time of 3:57.1. He raced his personal best mile of 3:53.3 in 1973 to beat Steve Prefontaine at the Hayward Field Restoration Meet. In 1974 Dave joined professional International Track Association and competed briefly before retiring. He competed collegiately for Bowling Green University and won six Mid-American Conference titles in track and one in cross country. At Canton (Ohio) Lincoln High School Dave was State AAA Mile Champion his senior year in 4:20.2. His personal best times include: 800 meters– 1:44.3 (1972); 1,500 meters– 3:36.2 (1973); Mile – 3:53.3 (1973); 2 miles – 8:40.0i (1973). Dave received the 1974 NCAA Top Five Award which honored five outstanding senior student-athletes. He was inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame in 1982 and Ohio Track Hall of Fame in 1974. Dave coached for a total of six years at Walsh (OH) College, and Bethany (WV) College. He has worked for the past 27 years at Rhodes College in Memphis where he is currently Dean of Admissions. Dave and his wife, Jan, of nearly 38 years, reside in Germantown, Tennessee.
GCR:With the perspective now of nearly four decades since your victory in the 1972 Olympic 800 meters in Munich, what has your performance that day contributed to your life as an athlete, leader and role model?
DWWe had a really good group of distance runners in the early 1970s. It was a fun time to be a middle distance runner in the United States. My life is totally different because of those three one-hundredths of a second that meant the difference between a Gold and Silver Medal. I can’t imagine how my life would be today without that happening. It opened doors that would not have been opened to me. There are speaking engagements, personal appearances and even earlier today I received a call from a gentleman who is setting up a seminar with runners who were known as ‘kickers.’ So almost 40 years later it is still an important part of my life.
GCR:I watched that race as a teenager and have viewed replays of it many times and it seems almost impossible that you were able to come from so far behind to pass so many runners in the home stretch. When you came off of the final turn did you envision winning or did you just kick and things fell into place?
DWAt the top of the turn I didn’t see myself winning. My mind was like a little computer and with each step I noted how much I was gaining on the leaders as my mind continually recomputed my chances to catch them. So at the start of the home stretch I was aiming for a bronze medal. I just wanted to pass the first Kenyan and move into third place. When I caught Robert Ouko I quickly reevaluated my chances and set my sights on Mike Boit and the silver medal. It wasn’t until about ten meters before the finish line that Arzhanov started to fade and I thought I could catch him. When I look at the videotape it confirms that he didn’t really fall off the pace until right at the end.
GCR:When you crossed the finish line could you tell if you had passed Russia’s Yevgheny Arzhanov or was it too close to tell?
DWI felt that I had won because in my peripheral vision I sensed that he was no longer even with me and had fallen behind with his lunge and fall at the finish. So I raised my arms in victory, but three hundredths of a second is impossible to humanly detect. So even though I thought I had won, I was glad it was confirmed by the photo finish film.
GCR:How did the race develop compared to your pre-race strategy and, in hindsight, was it a good move to stay out of traffic especially the way Arzhanov was fouled by Dieter Fromm on the back stretch of the first lap?
DWSince I was recovering from the tendonitis I came down with five weeks before the Olympics my training mileage had been hampered. Basically I wasn’t in my top mental and physical shape. My strategy was not to go in and run even ’26 second splits’ and hope it was enough to win. I never would have wanted to give my foes 15 yards and try to come back in the end. It’s just the way the race unfolded. My strategy if I was in the shape I was in for the Olympic Trials would have been to be at the back of the pack or in fifth or sixth place and out of trouble. I would have rather stayed in contact with the pack. When I listen to tapes of the announcing during the race the commentators were confident in my strategy even when I was dead last and well behind the pack, but if I was running the race again I probably wouldn’t have used those tactics.
GCR:What were your initial thoughts on being the Olympic champion?
DWThey had two gigantic black scoreboards at each end of the Olympic stadium so when the race ended I raised my arms as I thought I won. But I was standing around, Ouko and Boit were talking and no one really knew what had happened. I was walking around thinking I had won, but wondering along with everyone else. The way I found out was when the whole world found out. So when ‘Wottle, D. USA’ flashed up with ‘1:45.9,’ Arzhanov was also 1:45.9 and a rush of adrenaline went through me as I realized what I had just done. I was in a daze. But then I got as excited as I get, and I mean that I’m not usually a very emotional person. So I did take a victory lap. I jogged around the track and waved at people. I saw my wife who was very excited and hugging my teammate, Doug Brown, the steeplechaser, who was sitting with her. My coach and his wife were also in the stands. Also, my parents were there and took a video of the race. But they were so excited and jumped up and down the whole way so the video is just a jiggly unviewable piece of footage.
GCR:How exciting was it to be on the top of the podium with the Gold Medal around your neck as the Star Spangled banner played?
DWI was only 22 years old with very little international running experience and it was indicative of how I was in a daze when I forgot to remove my hat during the playing of the National Anthem. I remember it started playing, I didn’t even know where the flag was and one of the officials pointed me in the right direction. It was instinctive and I just did everything I had done as a child. I put my hand over my heart and faced the flag. My hat was just like a man’s wallet as I didn’t even realize it was on. The way I found out was at the press conference when an Australian reporter asked me if I was protesting something by covering up my USA patch on my singlet and keeping my hat on. I had just put my hand on my heart and forgot about my hat so this was the first time I realized that anyone had noticed and wondered if I was making a political statement. The ceremony was pretty close after the race. We went under the stands and they took a urine sample which was followed immediately by receiving our medals and the press conference.
GCR:When you watch videotape replays of the race today, do you sometimes think, ‘Wow, I can’t believe the guy in the golf cap won?!’
DWOh yea… I have no idea. If I didn’t know what I had done, it would be hard to envision someone coming from behind down the stretch like that. And I used to always visualize the race through my eyes, but now I’ve seen it so many times through the camera’s eyes that I’m forgetting what the race looked like to me. That’s kind of sad, but it has been 38 years.
GCR:The Munich Games were marred by the terrorist hostage taking and killings. Describe your memories of this tragedy and its affect on you, your teammates and others.
DWI won the Gold Medal on Sept 2nd and the hostage taking was on Sept 4th. I was still there training and getting ready for the 1,500 meters. My roommate was Frank Shorter and his wife, Eloise, was sleeping on our balcony. She heard the first shots that killed the Israelis, but didn’t realize at the time what the noises were. It was like a ‘pop-pop-pop’ of a car backing up. I went out the next morning for a run in the back end of the Olympic Village and reporters got a hold of me and asked what had happened. I hadn’t noticed anything and this is when I started getting sketchy information that an Israeli athlete had been killed or possibly that 12 had been killed. After the games resumed, and it may sound cold-hearted, knowing that I still had the 1,500 meters left I had to block the tragedy out of my mind. At the Olympic Games an athlete cannot be thinking about two things. There has to be a focus on one’s performance. It doesn’t mean I was insensitive. The Olympics were delayed one day and the athletes all concentrated on the Memorial Service. But after Avery Brundage announced the Games would resume, I decided that I would reflect on what happened afterward and focus on my event.
GCR:With your decreased training volume prior to the Olympics was it difficult to have the stamina needed for the 1,500 meter distance and the multiple rounds?
DWOf course I wasn’t in the condition I was in before the Trials, but I felt the best for any of my Olympic races in the 1,500 meter semifinals. I felt so strong and became overconfident. I started thinking, ‘I’m the 800 meter champion, I have a great kick and I feel very strong.’ But I let them have too much distance and couldn’t catch up. I missed the 1,500 meter final by about the same three-hundredths of a second that I won in the 800 meter final. It was just a breath away for qualifying. It was one of my greatest disappointments along with not breaking the World Record in the mile. I really would have loved to have the chance to compete in that 1,500 meter final. It’s awful tough when you are feeling good. I felt great which made it hurt even more.
GCR:Do you have any great memories of your time in Munich with some legendary United States distance runners such as Jim Ryun, Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter?
DWWe had living quarters that were like an apartment with three bedrooms and a kitchen. We had a group of distance runners including Jon Anderson, Ken Swanson, Kenny Moore, Frank Shorter and me. Steve Prefontaine was not in our quarters. I was only 22 years old and was really taking in the experience of competing internationally. Also, my wife and I were on our honeymoon so she was travelling with me much to the chagrin of Coach Bowerman. How unusual is it that Frank Shorter and I are the last Americans to win Olympic Gold at any distance of 800 meters or longer and that we were roommates in Munich.
GCR:You were known more as a miler and 1,500 meter runner prior to some great efforts in 1972 at 800 meters. How was your mental approach different at these distances and which did you prefer racing?
DWHands down I always preferred running the 1,500 meters and the mile. When I ran the 800 meters at the Olympic Trials it was a speed workout for me. My coach had said, ‘Dave, we’re going to enter you in the 800 meters and, if and when you get eliminated, we’ll use the race and add some more to make a speed workout of it.’ It was about five days before the 1,500 meters which was perfect timing for a workout. But when I tied the World Record it rightly became the event for me to focus on. I don’t have a lot of fond memories of the 800 meters as it was a little too quick for my leg speed. But I loved the mile, its strategy and the balance between speed and endurance. The mile and 100 meters were the elite track events and there was still an aura to breaking the four minute mile. It’s strange that I tied the World Record and won a Gold Medal in the 800 meters when the mile and 1,500 meters are the distances where I felt I was better. I never trained for the 800 meters, always for the mile. The order of events in a track meet included the mile first so I raced it and the 800 meters was an after thought. I also felt insecure in the 800 meters as I was up against runners moving up from the 400 meters who had much better leg speed.
GCR:You tied the World Record for 800 meters at the 1972 AAU Championships in a time of 1:44.3. What are your memories of that race and how did it build your confidence as far as competing with the best in the world leading up to the Munich Olympic Games?
DWI always considered myself a ‘kicker’ so I went out in last place. It was similar to the Olympic 800 meter final except that I had contact with the field. I started moving up on the first turn of the second lap and then Jim Ryun took off on the back stretch. I made a comparable move and moved up to about third place on the outside. I was in second place on the turn and started my kick with about 140 meters to go as I was about to come out of the turn. I passed Ryun and won and, I have to be honest, I didn’t even know what the World Record was for 800 meters. I remember I finished the race and my Bowling Green teammate Sid Sink, who was running the steeplechase and 5,000 meters, came running onto the track and excitedly said, ‘Look at the time!’ I saw it was 1:44.26 and said, ‘Great,’ as it was my personal best. Then Sid told me it tied the World Record and it was so amazing that I just thought, ‘Super,’ but it really didn’t register. Again, I never ran for times, just for places, so I didn’t run to break a record. I was running for place and the record came about because Jim Ryun ran that fast third 200 meters and I followed him. It gave me a lot of confidence for Munich since I came in with the fastest time in the world.
GCR:You were injured between the Olympic Trials and the Munich Games. What caused this to occur and how did it affect your training?
DWThe Trials were over on July eighth or ninth and I got married on July fifteenth. We had a short three day honeymoon and then I reported for training with the U.S. team on July 20th. Bill Bowerman had been very much against me getting married and wanted me to postpone my wedding but there was no way I was going to tell me future wife six days before our wedding that we had to delay it until after the Olympics. I wanted to prove to Coach Bowerman that getting married had no effect on my training and I made the mistake of running a hard workout without warming up properly. Then I got injured and couldn’t train at all for two weeks. I felt that I could compete with anyone, but it was short-lived due to my injury. Prior to the Games I only was able to get my mileage up to 13 to 15 miles per week. I normally would have been running 70 to 75 miles per week. So, I was down mentally going into the race. That was a tough time to have done so well at the Olympic Trials and then to get injured and be unable to train the way I needed to. Plus the Olympics were almost two months after the Trials which is too long to remain in peak form, even if uninjured.
GCR:You raced the mile at the NCAAs as a freshman in 1969. What stands out from your first national track championship?
DWI had run a 4:06.8 a few weeks before so I had a decent qualifying time. The meet was at the University of Tennessee and I recall Jim Ryun just blew by me in the prelims as I was eliminated. I watched the final which was the race where Liquori broke Ryun and Jim didn’t finish the race.
GCR:In 1970 you placed second in the NCAA mile and brought your personal best for 880y down from 1:51.6 to 1:47.8. How was it racing Marty Liquori in the mile and what in your training and development as a runner contributed to 1970 being such a breakthrough year?
DWThat mile at the 1970 nationals was one of the most unusual races I ever ran because I led for the first two laps. I had brought my times down and felt competitive and went out in the lead. No one would pass me so I stayed out front. Finally someone took over on the third lap and Liquori made a break with 300 meters left. He opened up a pretty good distance on me and I couldn’t make it all up. He won in 3:59.9 and I was two tenths back in 4:00.1. I was coming up on him, but he said I wouldn’t have caught him and that he had plenty left in his tank. And he was probably right. As far as why 1970 showed such improvement, you have to put things in perspective. In high school we didn’t have a cross country team, so I only ran track. At Bowling Green Sid Sink was the leader of our team and helped me greatly. I hadn’t run in the mornings and it was a hard transition to go from running for only three months of the year in high school to running high mileage and getting out in the morning. I went from 15 to 20 miles a week in high school to 70, 80 and even 90 miles a week in college so it took a while to build a base during my freshman year. Then it came into fruition when I was a sophomore. Putting more mileage under my belt contributed to my strength and it all started to come together in 1970.
GCR:You missed the 1971 track season due to injuries. What was the severity and duration of the injuries and how were you able to build to such a great comeback in 1972?
DWDuring cross country season in the fall of 1970 just before our conference meet I developed a stress fracture in my left fibula which knocked me out for about six weeks. Then I came back and trained for about two weeks. But I was favoring my left leg and developed bursitis in my right knee. This kept me sidelined for another seven weeks. After I got back into training I ended up with a mirror image stress fracture in my right fibula. So I missed the last part of cross country season and all of indoor and outdoor track. I was disappointed as I felt that 1971 could have been a real good year for me and this motivated me to get back. I went up to Canada with Rich Schnicker, the best man at my wedding, and we ran in an all-comers meet in Ontario. I got on the shoulder of the leader and had a big smile as I was so glad to be back in competition. I didn’t win the race, but it felt great to be back competing. We had a great team of distance runners at Bowling Green and they just brought me along. We didn’t have trails to run on so all of our training was on the roads. We weren’t as sophisticated back in the early 1970s regarding training regimens and prevention of injuries. I did use a soft heel cup to cushion it a bit. I ran in Adidas Gazelles which had little padding. Back then when a runner had a broken bone the doctor would say, ‘It’s stronger than ever and you won’t get an injury there again.’
GCR:What are your memories of winning the mile at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 1973 in a time of 3:57.1, an NCAA record that still stands today?
DWIt was in Baton Rouge and was so hot! It was 98 degrees and with very high humidity and I didn’t need to wear any sweats to warm up. After the race I was seeing stars and bright lights as I’m sure I was dehydrated. I felt horrible afterward. It’s funny as I was talking to Marty Liquori a few years ago and he thought he had the NCAA Record, but the year he won he ran a 3:57.3. Marty and I weren’t bosom buddies as we were competitive back in 1970, as I mentioned earlier, so to break his record was sweet.
GCR:You raced your personal best mile of 3:53.3 in 1973 to beat Steve Prefontaine at the Hayward Field Restoration Meet, now known as the Prefontaine Classic. How did that race develop and how difficult was it to beat a competitor as tough as Pre?
DWThe whole idea for the meet started about two weeks earlier. I was at the AAU National Championships in Bakersfield and Prefontaine and I were slated to go to Europe in a couple weeks with hurdler Ralph Mann on a track tour. I had run the 800 meters at the AAUs and Pre came up to me afterward and said, ‘Hey why don’t you come up to Eugene and we’ll go for the mile record. I’ll bring you through in 2:56 and then each man for himself on the last lap.’ So I said, ‘Great. Good idea.’ It really shows the clout of Prefontaine as he orchestrated the meet in two weeks. He was able to make it happen. The Hayward stands were packed with fans that were very knowledgeable about track and field. Prefontaine brought me through in 2:56 flat – just what he said he would. I took the lead with about 180 meters to go. I think I started moving with a lap to go and passed him on the last turn. But I probably need to watch the ‘Fire on the Track’ movie which includes that race to jar my memories. What people don’t realize is that when Pre ran his PR that day of 3:54.6 he was the sixth fastest miler in history. People don’t envision Pre as a miler, but that’s a pretty good time for a 5,000 meter guy!
GCR:You were an Olympic teammate of Steve Prefontaine and toured Europe with him and others while competing in International meets. Do you have any favorite Pre stories?
DWWhen you’re 23 years old and travelling around Europe, how much more fun can you have? We had a friend in Finland who had competed for Brigham Young University who set up all of the meets. We all would sit around and talk track and Pre and I trained together. At each meet Ralph Mann would race the local sprinters and hurdlers while Pre and I would take on the distance runners. It was like a five week ‘travelling meet’ in seven or eight Scandinavian towns. There were plenty of good runners competing against us, so it wasn’t just for show. Pre was always upset as he wanted to beat me in the mile. There was one race in Malmo and it was a photo finish. He was so ticked when they gave the nod to me as he finally thought he’d beaten me. He may have – who knows? I remember when we were at a cabin on a Scandinavian lake and we were water skiing naked. The water was freezing cold and we were trying to wipe each other out. Another time we were in a sauna on the lake and Pre poured a bucket of water on the coals and locked me in. I remember my eyebrows were singed and I could see him laughing through the window. I was yelling, ‘I’m going to kick your butt! Open this door!’ Then he opened the door and ran and jumped in the lake. I ran out of the door and said, ‘How’s the lake?’ Pre shouted, ‘It feels great!’ So I jumped in and it about stopped my heart as I was so hot from the sauna and the lake was frigid. The whole trip was such a good time. It was great competition; great talk and good, clean fun. Then Pre and I joined the AAU team in Turin, Italy. Afterward he was tired and went home while I competed in Minsk, Russia and then at the Crystal Palace in London, England.
GCR:In 1974 you joined up with the professional International Track Association, didn’t race much and forfeited your amateur status. Due to the financial hardships of amateur athletes at that time, was it a given that you were planning to retire from amateur running anyway in order to earn a living?
DWI knew myself well enough that I didn’t think I could have kept the competitive fires burning until the Montreal Olympics in 1976. My strength was really taken from my teammates and coach at Bowling Green. I lost that when I graduated and had to train on my own and just wasn’t the same runner. I needed someone to push me but I didn’t want to relocate to another place with a club like the Florida Track Club or Chicago Track Club. When I made the decision to run pro track it was easier to make since I didn’t plan to continue competing as an amateur - but I was never in the same league as when I was an amateur. I thought I could keep running and earn a few dollars. The downfall of the ITA was that we had the ‘Who’s Who’ of track – guys like Kip Keino, Jim Ryun, Ben Jipcho, Bob Seagren and Lee Evans - but none of us were competing as we did in our prime except Jipcho. When the pro times aren’t matching the amateurs, you’re in trouble and so it was with the ITA.
GCR:You’ve done some coaching including at Walsh (OH) College, and Bethany (WV) College. How rewarding is it to help others improve and succeed in running compared to your own running and racing?
DWI really loved the relationships I built with the athletes. Some still keep in touch with me. It’s funny as I’ve been in the field of College Admissions for thirty years and don’t get letters from students thanking me for helping with their financial aid packages, but I still get cards and e-mails from my athletes. The frustration I had as a coach was that I couldn’t run the races for my runners. I would instill in them by training and getting them mentally prepared, but when the gun went off it was their race. If they ran poorly there was nothing I could do. But the experience of working with them and seeing them develop as human beings was an aspect I loved.
GCR:What was your typical training mileage in college and what were some of your favorite training sessions?
DWThe 70 or 80 miles per week I mentioned earlier was fairly typical throughout cross country season and a bit less during track. I didn’t like the long cross country 2-mile repeats, but mile repeats were okay. Coach Mel Brodt has us on a medium, hard, medium, hard, easy, easy (or race), easy system during cross country season. We would do distance repetitions on Monday, which might be repeat miles or a ladder of 880, mile, 2-mile, mile and 880 with a short rest interval. Tuesday we did a speed workout and Wednesday was a pace workout. Thursday was fartlek, Friday was easy, Saturday was a cross country meet and Sunday was a long run. I tended to enjoy the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions. I knew the long intervals were necessary but didn’t enjoy them as much. In track we did shorter workouts and my favorite was speed work.
GCR:How did you get started running in high school and what are some of your high school highlights?
DWMy high school coach, Ed Daniels, had been a very good sprinter with a best 100 yard dash time of 9.6 at West Union College and he was very encouraging for me. I signed up to be a sprinter and was at Canton Lincoln High School. He saw after a week or two that I wasn’t cut out for the sprints and put his arm around me and said, ‘I’m going to put you with everyone else that doesn’t have any talent. Go over there with the distance runners. We didn’t have cross country or indoor track season, so I just ran the three months of the year. My senior year Coach Daniels took us over to Pittsburgh and ran one indoor meet in what was a converted barn or stable. My mile progression over the four years was 4:52, 4:38.6, 4:22.4 and 4:20.2. In the half mile my best times each year were 2:08.6, 2:04.7, 2:00.1 and 1:59.3. I was fourth in the mile my junior year in the State AAA meet and won my senior year. Dave Udovic was my main competitor. I just nipped him 4:20.2 to 4:20.8. I came from behind and outkicked him. A judge came over and said that when I was jostled and stepped off the track for two strides on the back stretch he could have disqualified me but he was going to let it go. Dave was from Cleveland St. Joseph High School and had placed second the year before behind Wes Brock who was the all-time State of Ohio record holder. After graduating Dave ended up in Vietnam and sadly stepped on a land mine and got his legs blown off.
GCR:What is your family connection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe?
DWI used to run by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My grandfather, Charles Plotner, has his name listed in the Hall as he played with Jim Thorpe. He isn’t a Hall-of-Famer, but he played for the Canton Bulldogs. My grandmother said that when they would invite Jim Thorpe over for dinner that he was just a big Indian and a raw stud athlete. That was in that tough time and my grandfather never appreciated me being a runner as it was sort of a ‘sissy sport’ where we just ran around in circles. He coached semipro football, played with Jim Thorpe and was tough as iron. To him, that was sport. But no one jumped higher than my grandfather than when I won in Munich. He was very proud of me.
GCR:Did you select Bowling Green University for athletics, academics or a combination of the two?
DWIt was close to my home and I had gotten letters from the coach throughout high school. Bowling Green is the first college I ever visited. Coach Brodt wrote me my freshman year and my parents took me to visit the campus. Bowling Green is in Alliance and is only 20 miles from Canton. However, I actually was all set to go to Mount Union. I had a room, roommate and course schedule, but about two weeks before school I decided to go to Bowling Green and the deciding factor was athletics. In my mind Bowling Green was better because it was bigger, which is a fallacy, but that’s the way my mind worked. There are two other things I remember in my thought process at the time. First, the mile record at Mount Union was 4:17 and I thought since I already ran a 4:20, I would get the record in a year or two and there wouldn’t be anything to strive for. Second, they required a more extensive foreign language curriculum. I had taken Spanish classes in high school and just hated studying a foreign language. I would have to take less foreign language classes at Bowling Green. So I switched. I still have newspaper articles saying, ‘Dave Wottle is going to Mount Union,’ but I ended up at Bowling Green.
GCR:Bowling Green University, no longer has a track and field program. What are your thoughts on this and is there any truth to the rumor that the ‘Home of Dave Wottle, 1972 Gold Medalist’ sign is in your garage?
DWI haven’t given to the college for several years since they discontinued the track team. I wrote to the University President and with my experience in college admissions I looked at it from a net tuition revenue standpoint. But he never responded to my letter which was surprising and very disappointing. He didn’t have to agree with me but could have at least said he got my letter. They made a sign after the Olympics, put it up at the city lines of Bowling Green and gave me an extra sign that they made for me. The city now has a ‘Welcome to Bowling Green, Home of Scott Hamilton,’ sign to commemorate the great ice skater who is actually from there while I was just a student. The sign is huge – it’s about four feet by six feet so I just hung it in my garage. It’s interesting as some people don’t know that I won an Olympic Gold medal so it’s good for conversation.
GCR:You have children who followed somewhat in your running footsteps. Did you steer them toward running and was your great success an inspiration or a bit daunting to them?
DWI didn’t steer them toward running. I probably went the opposite route and didn’t encourage them in athletics because I didn’t want to put pressure on them. But when they got to high school I thought of the lessons I learned in athletics that are so valuable – hard work, perseverance and competitive spirit – that we all gained from and so I told me kids that I don’t care what you compete in but I’d like you to choose a sport or two while you are in high school. My younger boy, Mike, tried baseball and basketball, but they all gravitated toward running. My daughter, Jenny, was probably the best runner as she went to State in cross country and track and was State runner up in the mile. Both Scott and Mike went to Rhodes and Mike holds the school record in the steeplechase with a 9:32. They had a great experience through running and I really enjoyed following them and being around the track and cross country scene. I stayed away from coaching them and tried to minimize the pressure on them. It’s unrealistic to succeed at the level I did and then to think that your children can.
GCR:Do you have any tips for youngsters starting running?
DWThey shouldn’t get into it too quickly. I prefer a moderate approach and don’t think they should get into higher mileage until their bodies are ready to handle it. I also think that there is a necessity to keep a good balance in one’s life between athletics, academics and personal life. I realize that you must focus to accomplish a goal that is worthwhile, but that this is best done while keeping a balanced life. A person shouldn’t become solely dependent on one aspect of their life as that is very limiting.
GCR:You are currently Dean of Admissions at Rhodes College in Memphis. How rewarding is your career and what lessons from your athletic background contributes to your success?
DWIt’s been wonderful as I’ve been here at Rhodes for 27 years and so many of the lessons I learned in track have played over into admissions. They are both very goal oriented. Each year I am given a goal to enroll students of a certain number, tuition revenues, diversity and academic quality which is like setting goals in track. It is a program where I have short-term, medium and long-term goals for that class and that year which is similar to building toward racing in the national championships each year in college. It takes perseverance, mental preparation, hard work and confidence. I have enjoyed admissions so much because there is so much correlation with track and cross country. My colleagues at Rhodes are like my teammates while the admissions personnel at other colleges are similar to my competitors in track so it lines up very well with the way I think.
GCR:What do you currently do for health and fitness?
DWI have lower back and knee problems now, but I love playing basketball and have played with a group at my church for over 15 years. It’s a variety of ages so it’s really competitive. But with the knee and back issues I’ve thought about starting with some jogging to keep fit and keep my weight down. My problem is that I haven’t gained that much weight that I see this urgency to get out and exercise – I need something to motivate me. I didn’t have any desire to run age group track meets as there would be some expectation by others that I should race fast and win. That’s why I like basketball so much as I don’t have to prove anything.
GCR:Do you enjoy reliving your Olympic victory through succeeding generations of track fans and is it surprising that so many people remember your victory?
DWI enjoy talking about it, but I’m not one who likes to live in the past. It’s almost 40 years later and people are still talking about it. I wanted to move on after the Olympics were over. Three weeks later I was doing student teaching and moving on with life. But it is still an ego boost as here I am 60 years old and young people are still excited to here about the Munich Olympics. I do like getting on YouTube and where they have the video of my Olympic race everyone has comments and opinions about what I was thinking about while I was racing. It’s kind of fun to read them and think, ‘That’s not what I was doing’ and ‘that’s not what I was thinking.’
GCR:What excites you about the future in your career, personal life and retirement years?
DWIn the short term I am excited about being here at Rhodes and achieving my goals. I love admissions work though there is a lot of pressure and much is riding on how I do, so I am looking forward to getting away from the pressure in a few years as retirement isn’t that far down the road. I have a great, close family and have four grandkids now so I can get excited about visiting them, travelling, doing work around the house, volunteering and setting my own schedule. I’m not one to look out too far with my goals – even in running I didn’t think I had any chance of competing for a Gold Medal until early 1972. So I don’t set a five year plan – I just look a couple years into the future and get excited about what I’m doing now.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsWorking around the house; puttering on Saturday mornings and organizing things; playing basketball and being with my family
NicknamesAs a kid with a last name like Wottle – other kids would say ‘Waddle, waddle, duck, duck’
Favorite moviesI hate to admit it but I love romantic comedies like ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘While You’re Sleeping.’ But I also like action flicks like ‘True Lies’
Favorite TV showsI love ‘NCIS,’ ‘24’ and ‘Lost.’ As a kid I loved ‘The Fugitive’ with David Janssen
Favorite songsOlder songs from the seventies, especially mellow rock like ‘America’ and ‘The Eagles.’ From the sixties I loved ‘The Beatles,’ ‘Beach Boys’ and ‘Four Tops’
Favorite booksThe Bible – that’s got to be my favorite!
First car1959 Ford Thunderbird that was a restoration job my dad bought for me for $500
Current car325 BMW
First jobI was a stock boy at Rexall Drug Store and also painted houses during summer breaks in high school
FamilyMy wife, Jan, and I will have been married 38 years on July 15, 2010. Three children – Scott is married with two kids; Mike is married with two kids and my daughter, Jenny, got married in 2009 but doesn’t have any kids yet
PetsNo. My wife doesn’t like animals as she was attacked by a dog as a kid. I had a Cocker Spaniel named Rusty when I was growing up
Favorite mealBacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with some green beans and peaches for dessert
Favorite breakfastCarnation Instant Breakfast for over 35 years. I started with it in the mid-seventies. I must have five boxes at home as I bought a year’s supply. To me it’s like having a milk shake every morning
Favorite beveragesI don’t drink alcohol. I love sweet tea
First running memoryRunning away from my dad. I was taunting him and saying I was fast and he wasn’t. He caught me in a heartbeat!
Running heroesJim Ryun. I watched him when I was starting out as a runner. I was never a hero-worshiper, but Jim was one whom I admired
Greatest running momentI put three moments on equal footing – the first time I broke four minutes in the mile, tying the World Record in the 800 meters and my Olympic Gold Medal race. People always think it’s the Olympic Gold. But I had just as great thrill the first time I broke four minutes. It was at the Central Collegiate Conference meet in Bloomington, Indiana my sophomore year. I ran a 3:59 flat. I remember being on cloud nine and in a daze for two weeks afterward as I was so excited
Worst running momentThe 1972 Olympic 1,500 meter semifinals when I didn’t qualify for the finals
Childhood dreamsTo be a school teacher
Funny memoriesJust recently I was eating lunch in the school cafeteria with friends and was leaning back on my chair. I must have leaned too far and it tipped over and I went sprawling with my feet up in the air. I got up and sat down with my back to the students and asked a friend, ‘Did anyone see that?’ He said, ‘Only the three hundred students who are here.’ If there had been a video running, it would have been on ‘America’s Funniest Videos!’ A second one is at the Kansas Relays when my Bowling Green teammates and I won the four by one mile relay and they gave the winners these Kansas Jayhawk hats with a brim that was about nine inches long. I put on the hat, stuck out my buck teeth and started making bird noises and my coach and teammates were laughing so hard they were in stitches
Embarrassing momentThe incident where I forgot to remove my hat during the playing of the National Anthem when I won my Gold Medal. I was in ROTC and it hit me hard
Favorite places to travelI love renting a cabin in the Smoky Mountains that is near Gatlinburg. I really enjoyed my five weeks travelling and running in Scandinavia with Steve Prefontaine