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Dave Wottle
Brian Cazeneuve
July 02, 2007
As an admissions director, the hat-wearing hero of the 1972 Games tries to spot students with hidden potential
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July 02, 2007

Dave Wottle

As an admissions director, the hat-wearing hero of the 1972 Games tries to spot students with hidden potential

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It was�only fitting that the tattered white golf cap Dave Wottle wore while racing made it into the U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1977, five years before he did. He was always a slow starter, underestimated and often overlooked--until Sept.�2, 1972, when he won the 800 meters at the Munich Olympics with one of the most memorable kicks in track history. Today, as dean of admissions at Rhodes College in Memphis, the 56-year-old Wottle often spots students who rise above mediocre grades. Says Wottle, "I have to have an eye for hidden qualities."

At his racing weight of 139 pounds, Wottle was gaunt and awkward. He missed most of the two years before Munich with injuries and hadn't much to show for his recovery period except the hat, which he got for working as a race official. Little was expected of Wottle, especially by U.S. coaches, who chided him for marrying his Ohio sweetheart, Jan, a month before the Games and then honeymooning at the Olympics. "I had to make sure something went right on that trip," he says with a laugh, "and I couldn't count on the race." But rallying from last place with 300 meters to go, Wottle passed the entire 800 field to nip Evgeni Arzhanov of the Soviet Union, who'd been unbeaten for four years. Wottle was so excited he forgot to remove his hat on the medal stand.

He retired from running in 1976, but at 174 pounds Wottle looks more athletic today than he did as an Olympian--not bad for a father of three and grandfather of four who's celebrating his 35th wedding anniversary this summer.

At a fund-raiser this spring, Wottle met Alan Webb, the country's top young middle-distance runner, who wanted to pick the brain of the man under the cap. "I was touched," says Wottle. "I thought people would have forgotten long ago."

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