LONDON — Old Olympic editions of Sports Illustrated are a style archivist’s goldmine. Forty years ago in our coverage of Team USA — the sports stories that were were written before Munich’s Games turned tragic — one could find images of a freestyle wrestler the size of a sumo, an 800-meter runner in a golf hat, an archer with star-patterned sleeves and a race-walker who may have inspired the cross-country jogging look of Forrest Gump. Below are the shots I pulled from SI’s files of ’72′s style stars, matched up with their 2012 counterparts, who tend to be slimmer, sleeker and less hirsute. That doesn’t necessarily mean they look better.
800-meter run: Dave Wottle > Nick Symmonds
(Then: Neil Leifer/SI – Now: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The YouTube of Wottle’s 800 is epic: He overtakes the entire field in the last quarter of the race; announcer Jim McKay is yelling, “He’s got one Kenyan … he’s got the other Kenyan,” as Wottle makes his passes; and Wottle does it all while wearing a hat with crisscrossing golf clubs on it. He was so stunned by winning gold that he forgot to take the hat off on the medal stand. Symmonds, who finished well out of the medals in London, is far too slick for a hat. His signature is the piece of tape on his left shoulder, worn in protest of the IAAF’s ban on athletes branding themselves. (He has previously sold temporary tattoo space there as a way to fund his training.)