DANVILLE — Those who saw Dave Wottle win the 800-meter gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games likely have not forgotten.
With one of the all-time great stretch runs, Wottle roared from last place with 300 meters left to edge Soviet star Evgeni Arzhanov, who had not lost in four years.
Never mind that Wottle tied the world record of 1:44.30 at the U.S. Olympic Trials and, running for Bowling Green, was the NCAA 1,500-meter champion. The race in Munich made him an "instant" track and field legend.
Then, as The Star Spangled Banner blared while he was atop the podium, he forgot to remove the golf cap that he had worn during the race.
Suddenly, a legendary race was supplanted by a legendary gaffe. His apology endeared him to the public but, for all his achievements on the track, many probably remember the hat more than the race.
"They put the hat in the (U.S.) Track and Field Hall of Fame three years before they put me in the Hall of Fame," Wottle, who was inducted in 1982, said with a laugh. "That shows the importance of that thing."
He can thank his life for that hat. More on that later.
Wottle was part of an Olympic-star-studded cast of instructors at Centre College for the third annual Maximum Velocity Track and Field Academy, which wrapped up Friday.
The camp is the brainchild of Lexington's Sharrieffa Barksdale, a 1984 Olympian and former American record-holder in the women's 400-meter hurdles.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Barksdale's Olympic teammate and arguably the greatest female athlete of all time, has taken part each year.
This year's faculty Olympians also included four-time sprint medalist Ato Bolden; hammer throw American record-holder Erin Gilreath; pole vault former American record-holder Jeff Hartwig; high jumper Dusty Jonas; middle- and long-distance legend (36 American records) Francie Larrieu-Smith; and 400-meter hurdles world record-holder Kevin Young.
Al Joyner, Jackie's brother and the 1984 gold-medalist in the triple jump, was unable to appear because of a family emergency. Former University of Kentucky football player Littleton Ward, an outstanding jumper at Bryan Station High School, filled in for Joyner.
Young, who won Olympic gold 20 years after Wottle won his, said he was "giddy" at being able to rub shoulders with the man in the cap.
"I remember, when I was a kid, after the '72 Olympics he was like, in my little circle of friends, he was like a little catch-phrase," said Young, 45. "We'd say his name all the time. Whenever we did something goofy with a hat on our head, we'd say 'Dave Wottle!' ... So I found out he was here, and just as the kids look at me and say, 'Wow! Kevin Young, world record-holder,' I'm like, 'Dave Wottle, 800 meters, Munich Games. Winner. Golf cap,'" Young said. Then, with a laugh, he added, "I made it!"
Despite Wottle and his hat, Munich is rightly remembered for the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
Wottle's race took place before that act of terror.
"I was a wide-eyed young guy back then, but the Olympic race is something that's really remained fresh in my mind," Wottle, 61, said of his race. "I really see it, though, a lot through the camera's eye now. I have a harder and harder time remembering what I was seeing and feeling and thinking. I can remember a little bit what I was thinking because I can still see it in the camera, but what a great experience. You wish everybody could experience something like that."
Wottle, who had married shortly before the Olympics, roomed in Munich with marathon gold-medalist Frank Shorter.
Three days after Wottle won his race, he recalls how he learned about a crisis in the Athletes Village — and how naive he was then.
Shorter and his wife, Louise, were on a deck in the Village that night and heard the volley of fire that killed the first Israeli, Wottle said.
"But it was like you hear this car backfiring; you hear this 'pop-pop-pop,' and it's a loud noise and you don't think a whole lot of it," Wottle said. "I got up the next morning and went out for a run. I went out the back gate of the Village, so there's no one there. I went out for a run, and I was coming back in and I had my hat on, and it was after the 800-meter finals. The press corps was kind of staying at this gate and came down on me and said, 'What do you think of all the Israelis?' ... That was the first time I had found out about it."
A day later, the crisis still unfolding, Wottle went for another run.
"No one knew what was going on. I was coming back from an evening run; I was only running a few miles. And I had to get across this area — it was maybe 10 feet across — that was cordoned off," Wottle said. " ... If I didn't cross that area, I had to run about three-quarters of a mile or so around to get to another gate. And I was tired. So I ran down an embankment, jumped a 6-foot fence, ran under a bridge.
"Then, all of a sudden, I hear the guards yelling 'halt!' And you're just, 'Ah, heck with them.' Then I heard one say, 'Oh, it's Wottle' — I had my hat on. So I turned around to thank them, and they all had their machine guns pointed right at me. I tell people that's the day my hat saved my life.
"It was stupid. There's things you do when you're 22 years old that's kind of stupid. But I lived through it and hopefully learned a lesson."