Friday, December 2, 2011

1972 Olympic 800m

They are flying along the backstretch, 150m into the race.

American Dave Wottle is behind. Way behind. There is a shot of him running alone, with no one else in the picture.

Announcer: "We don't know if Dave is seriously injured or sliding back to stay out of trouble." Cracks me up; of course, I know what happens next.

The field comes through in under 51; Dave is back at 53 or so. He starts pushing at the 300m mark, slowly gaining. Off the last turn, he's still 7-8 yards back, but the Russian is slowly coming back. Dave's strides are long and quick, while Arzhanov's are choppy and short. Wottle cuts down two Kenyans and keeps going, nailing the Russian with 5 yards to go.

Wottle came from way behind, but he ran back to back 53s laps. Dead even splits. No wonder he had a big kick when he needed it. But can you call it a kick if everyone else is dying?

Sure, why not?

Then he commits a minor indescretion by forgetting to remove his golf cap on the victory stand. Not intentional, he just forgot. Which, of course, gives birth to maybe the best nickname ever:

The Cat in the Hat.

1964 Olympic 5,000m

Here I am, in the Somerset County Library at age 10, reading about a race that happened a year before I was born. By now, I was a fairly decent runner, having won my third grade cross country race at my school's annual Field Day. I had run enough to know that sometimes, running hurts a little.

And I knew enough to know that Olympic races hurt a lot.

So why is this guy smiling?

One lap to go. Frenchman Michel Jazy, WR holder in the mile, takes the bell and blasts off. By the end of the first turn, he has a gap and keeps flying down the backstretch. Behind him, American Bob Schul gets out of traffic and takes off in pursuit. For 100m, there is little change in their positions.

Then they hit the turn, and Jazy hits the wall. Coming into the finishing straight, he's tying up. But Schul isn't. Our guy pulls even with 80 remaining, then doesn't hesitate. He's gone. And he's laughing as he crosses the finish line.

German Harald Norpoth comes up on Jazy and also walks him down. "By then, the disheartened Frenchman was so disorganized that Bill Dellinger of the US snatched the bronze from him with the last stride." Disorganized? Not a term you normally hear when someone describes a race. Thank you, Arthur Daley (NY Times writer).

By the way, Schul ran a 38.7 for the last 300m. That's on a rain-drenched cinder track almost 50 years ago. That kind of finish puts him on the podium's top step in many races today.

With Schul's 5000m and Billy Mills's 10,000m, this remains the only year in which the US has one both distance golds. Or any gold.

There must have been something in the water that year.