Dave Wottle

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;   1 Corinthians 1:27

Never heard of Mr. Wottle? He of the baseball cap?  Too young to remember his dramatic, come-from-behind Olympic gold medal in the 800 meter race?  1972 in Munich.  Starting to ring a bell?  The slaughter of the Israeli Olympic team by terrorists?

Right. THAT Olympics.

Evgeni Arzhanov of the USSR was heavily favored to win that race. God had other plans.  How do I know?  Mr. Wottle came to my church last Saturday as the guest speaker for our men’s breakfast.  Dave should not have won, but he did.  Before I go any further, watch the race.


He’s a funny guy, joking that he’s glad no one saw him push the Russian down at the finish line. He also said that it’s one of his favorite races, because, whether you play it backwards or forwards, he wins!

If you listened on past the finish of the race, you heard the announcer say he hadn’t trained in weeks due to recent injuries. True.  Dave told us that an athlete’s training will hold for a couple weeks without workouts, but then you start going downhill.  He had already lost his conditioning at the time of the race.

Starting out 10 meters behind the leaders wasn’t strategy. That’s the rest of the pack handing him his butt.

He’s looking at everyone else’s backsides and sees the 80,000 people in the stadium and starts thinking he better do something. The ribbing he’ll get when he gets home will be merciless.

“Dave! Why weren’t you in the race?  Oh, yeah!  You were there.  Just out of the shot.”  Tee-hee…

In a bid to save face, he tries his best to catch the pack so he doesn’t cross the finish line alone.

Then he passes someone. OK.  Not bad.  I won’t be dead last.  He keeps moving up, and suddenly he’s in that well-known zone.  There’s no one in the stadium.  Not a face, not a sound.  In his mind that little computer fires up, calculating distance and speed with each step, telling him he’s starting to get there.

He starts his trademark kick. Nothing.  He’s not gaining.  He digs deeper, and the computer tells him he might be able to pass a Kenyan for the Bronze.  Then he’s in third, but the computer hasn’t stopped.  Taking third position has given him an extra shot.

“Dave! You can take silver!  Hit the gas, dude!  You’re running out of track.”

Second! There will be no ribbing when he gets back home to Ohio.  But the silver position gives him one last jolt, and the computer in his head tells him gold is possible.  Dig deep and give it one…more…push!


By .03. With the Russian literally falling to silver.

It wasn’t his favored event – which he lost decisively later in the games. His conditioning was gone.  It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.

Dave told us he’s convinced that win happening that way was God’s plan for him. It opened so many doors to speak to groups like ours, to tell his tale if improbable victory that bordered on the impossible.

God uses the weak to show His strength, to see His work on earth to completion. Dave was injured, weak, not running his favored event.  The Russian should have destroyed the field; he was the favorite going in.

God said no. He took Dave’s injured, less than Olympic condition and handed him Gold against runners that had no business losing to him on that day.

Fun anecdote; Wheaties, Breakfast of Champions, signed Dave to be on their cereal box and shoot a video to recreate his Olympic win. They hired two black world class sprinters to play the Kenyans.  Sprinters, mind you.

They won on the first take. The director went ape poop, and told them the white boy is supposed to win!  Take two.

“I said the WHITE boy wins!!”

Dave told him to have the sprinters do a quarter mile alone, then he’d join in and take them in the last 100 yards after they’d gassed themselves.

“WHITE boy! WHITE boy!  WHITE…boy!!”

Dave figures those two guys ran at least 4 miles, a quarter of a mile at a time before they finally LET him come in first. For a TV advertisement!

Ah, the bypassed corners of history!

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