You could always spot Dave Wottle when he ran. He always took part in races wearing an old golf cap, as if daring his opponents to underestimate him, and perhaps they did. Certainly it looked as if his chance of victory had gone after 600m, when Wottle was stranded in last place with just 200m left to run. But then again, Wottle was not a man to take lightly.
He had won the American trials in a time of 1:44.3, which equalled the world record and was several seconds faster than he had ever run before.Injury hampered his preparations, and so most people still expected the gold to go to Yevhen Arzhanov, a Ukrainian running for the Soviet Union. Arzhanov had not lost an 800-metre final for four years and held a healthy lead as the race entered its closing stages, with Wottle at the back of the field.
Two things then happened. Firstly, Wottle accelerated hard, producing a strong finishing kick as he chased a medal position. Ahead of him, the Kenyans Michael Boit and Robert Ouko, were fading and Wottle thought a top-three finish was possible.
The second thing that happened was that Arzhanov began to slow. With 20 metres to go, Wottle realised that the leader was fading noticeably, and so redoubled his own efforts. With two metres to go, Wottle moved into the narrowest of leads as Arzhanov fell across the line.”It is very disappointing,” he later said, “to lose in the last stride by the length of your nose”.
Wottle was so amazed by his victory that he forgot to remove his cap during the playing of the national anthem and then, mortified, felt moved to make a public apology.
He later gave up his amateur status to become a professional runner, but retired before long and moved into coaching. He became the Dean of Admissions at Rhodes College in Memphis, USA, until retiring in 2012.