Wottle’s Olympic Run

wottlerun

Despite the Games’ objectives to promote brotherhood and peace among man, every Olympic game during the Cold War was beset with political statements and rivalries. The ’72 Munich Games were no different.

On the athletic track, the reigning champion was Yevhen Arzhanov of the Soviet Union, who had not lost an 800-m final in four years. His unlikely defeat came in the hands–or rather by foot–of American Dave Wottle, a slight 22-year old from Ohio who emerged as a dark horse. Although lagging in the sixth place  behind leaders Michael Boit and Robert Ouko, both from Kenya, Wottle moved up to the second place as the Kenyans flagged and Arzhanov assumed the first place. With just 18 m before the finish, Wottle pushed ahead of Arzhanov, who stumbled and fell 2 m short of the tape, giving Wottle the victory.

Wottle was so stunned by his win that he forgot to remove his battered old golf cap during the medal ceremony. Taken aback by a reporter asking whether keeping the cap on was a protest against the Vietnam War, Wottle made a formal apology to the American people. In 1977, the cap was placed in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame; three years later, Wottle himself was inducted to the Hall of Fame. As he later joked, “They wanted the hat before they wanted me.”

(Above, photo by Tony Triolo, Sports Illustrated).

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