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Pat Putnam
July 10, 1972
Miler Dave Wottle ran the 800 for a lark—and tied the world record as the Olympic Trials got under way
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July 10, 1972

Just A Guy Having Some Fun

Miler Dave Wottle ran the 800 for a lark—and tied the world record as the Olympic Trials got under way

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The first thing Dave Wottle wanted to know about running 800 meters was, well, how exactly do you run such a short race. Now the mile, or the 1,500, is something else. The 21-year-old junior out of Bowling Green knows all about those distances. He just puts on a battered white golf cap, tucks in behind the leaders for about 3� laps and then—zap! Certainly such last-lap heroics earned the NCAA 1,500 champion a favorite's role in that event at the 11-day Olympic Trials which got under way in Eugene, Ore. last week. Then Wottle decided, shoot, why not sneak in some speed work by running the 800. It would be more fun than a practice session.

It was suggested to Wottle that perhaps the hat wasn't doing a proper job of keeping the sun off his head. Any way you looked at it, Mark Winzenried and Juris Luzins were mortal cinches to get two of the three 800 berths. And then there was Jim Ryun, who happens to be the world-record holder (1:44.9) in the 880. "Aw," said Wottle, "I'm just getting myself ready for the 1,500. I'm no half-miler. I run stupid races. I don't have any idea what I'm doing. Heck, I wouldn't run the 800 at Munich even if I made it. I don't have the quarter speed to go with those guys in Europe. Can't a guy just have some fun?"

While Wottle was getting ready to have a ball, some other parties were having their own versions of good times—and bad. For one, the U.S. suddenly found itself with a bunch of 9.9 100-meter sprinters—and Charlie Greene, Mel Pender, Dr. Delano Meriwether, Herb Washington, Jim Green, Marshall Dill, Ivory Crockett and Willie McGee weren't among them. Moreover, Willie Deckard ran a wind-aided 9.9 in a semi and didn't make the final. He finished fifth behind Reynaud (Rey) Robinson, Norbert Payton, Warren Edmonson and Eddie Hart, all of whom were also caught in 9.9.

A short time later, Hart, a graduate assistant at Berkeley, and Robinson, a junior at Florida A&M, matched their 9.9s in the final, this time with a legal wind, to tie the world record, Hart being adjudged first. Third place went to Robert Taylor of Texas Southern (10.0), with Kent State's Gerald Tinker (10.1) finishing fourth to earn a berth on the sprint relay team.

"I knew Robinson was the man," said Pender. "He makes two moves on you: at the start and then with 20 yards to go. When he gets out in front, nobody can catch him. Wait until [Valery] Borzov sees him."

Hart won't do much for the Russian's peace of mind either. A world-class sprinter, he virtually dropped out of sight after graduating from Cal last year. "I was training, but I wasn't competing," he explained. "I aimed everything at the trials. Then in the final I got off to a bad start and thought, 'Oh, oh.' But I regrouped, so to speak."

If anything can ever be predictable at an Olympic Trial, the discus and 20-kilo walk were. As expected, world-record holder Jay Silvester easily won the discus with a toss of 211'2", with the other two places going to John Powell and Tim Vollmer. And, equally as expected, Larry Young romped in the walk (1:35:56.4), followed by Goetz Klopfer and Tom Dooley.

In the other Saturday final, John Craft, a 25-year-old physical-education teacher from Eastern Illinois University who would rather practice than compete, won the triple jump with a whopping, windy 56'2", two inches farther than Dave Smith, who made his jump with an allowable breeze to set an American record. Art Walker, 30, like Smith a '68 Olympian, came in third with a leap of 55'1".

But none of these exploits rivaled the 800. The first esteemed loser in that event was Winzenried, who finished fifth in the opening heat. Sidelined for two weeks by an Achilles injury and on crutches until just three days before his race, the former Wisconsin star ran a game first lap but faded badly. The second casualty was Luzins, who struggled through his heat with a badly bruised instep and died in Friday's semis. So America's hopes quickly shifted to Ryun, who apparently had conquered his hay fever as easily as he had the field in his heat and semi. His victories were sweetened when after each race he passed the examination of Dr. Jay Keystone, his personal allergist, who came in from Santa Barbara, Calif. to be with him during the trials.

"He feels great," said Bob Timmons, Ryun's coach. "But everybody keeps telling him how bad the pollen count is in Eugene. I wish they'd cut that out. It isn't bothering Jim, but I feel lousy."

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