Those final steps, 1972 Munich 800m, Dave Wottle vs Yevgeny Arzhanov, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Dave Wottle strains to get to the finish line first, Yevgeny Arzhanov leaps, 1972 Munich 800m, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Dave Wottle takes the gold medal, Yevgeny Arzanhov, leaping for silver, Mike Boit, bronze, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
The 1972 Olympic Men’s final in the 800m is one of the most iconic of races. It was also the race where my awareness of track truly came about. Sure, I had watched Bob Beamon leap the LJ in 1968, on a black and white TV in the kitchen, as Dad made hot dogs (our Saturday ritual), but Wottle was different. I knew Yevgeny Arzanhov, representing the Soviet Union, was the man, 1971, and 72 European Indoor Champion. Dave Wottle had this cool hat (one of my classmates at DeSmet, Mark Bruns, wore a cap each race in Wottle’s honor that year), but it was his sense of pace, and his iconic battle with Arzhanov that captured me, and still does.
Jeff Benjamin reached out to me just 48 hours ago, asking about interviewing Yevgeny, and I immediately agreed.
Please think about this incredible sportsman, who congratulated Dave Wottle right after the Olympic final and hugged him in 1973 in Minsk, Belarus, and now, wishes to share a whiskey with Dave Wottle.
Keep Yevgeney Arzhanov and his wife, his country people and Ukraine in your thoughts and prayers. Many of us had believed that evil no longer exists. Evil does exist, just as good does.
Special thanks to Jeff Benjamin, a high school history teacher, and now, 32 years writing for American Athletics, then, American Track & Field, and now, RunBlogRun. Our East Coast senior editor loves his sport, and this shows, in his attention to detail on the 1972 Olympic silver medalist Yevgeney Arzhanov and the 1972 Olympic gold medalist, Dave Wottle.
Sport can overcome most of the bad things in this world. #Ukraine
“I Am A Patriot…I Am Sure We Will Win!” – Ukrainian Track Legend Yevgeny Arzhanov In A Mortal Struggle In Kyiv
By Jeff Benjamin
50 years ago in February of 1972, the annual Knights of Columbus Indoor Track meet in Cleveland brought together some pretty-well-known up-and-coming top athletes in the Sport.
Martin McGrady, Lee Evans, Byron Dyce along with Collegians John Lovett, Brian McElroy, Joe Savage, Bill McLaughlin all gave top performances in their respective events that night.
American Dave Wottle also was there to run the Mile, besting a field that night which included Dyce and Chris Mason, taking the lead at the bell, and winning the event in 4:06.7.
Yevgeny Arzhanov, Dave Wottle, 1972 Olympic 800m, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
After the race, Wottle’s Bowling Green teammate Sid Sink, a 7-time All-American, and top U.S.Steeplechaser, pointed towards a Soviet competitor from the race to his victorious Falcons teammate.
“I remember Sid asking me if I know who that was and I didn’t know,” said Wottle. “Sid said that was Yevgeny Arzhanov, who was the World Leader at 800 meters…he was obviously doing some over distance racing.”
“I’d never even had known that he was in the race.”
Having won Gold medals 2 times in a row at the European Indoor Championships from 1971-1972 (He’d win again in 1973 as well!) the 24-year old Ukrainian was looked upon as one of the favorites in the 800 at the Munich Olympics.
As for Wottle, who set the world record of 1:44.3 at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, the path to the Olympic final was a roller coaster for observers of the Sport.
Wottle had not done the high-quality training leading up to Munich due to tendinitis in his left knee. Also, to the chagrin of some, including U.S. Track Coach Bill Bowerman, he had married his wife Jan six days after the Trials and went on their honeymoon.
Yet, Wottle, along with Arzhanov, both qualified for the Olympic 800 final, a race that would go down as one of the greatest races in Olympic history.
After a blistering first lap led by Kenyans Robert Ouko and Mike Boit, Wottle was in dead last and looking like he was out of the race. Arzhanov hovered around the 5th-6th place at the Bell.
With a little less than 300 meters to go, Arzhanov stormed through the field past the two front-running Kenyans. Wottle, in last place throughout the race, also surged, putting himself in 5th with the fast charging Arzhanov now in the lead with less than 200 meters to go.
Those final steps, the iconic 1972 Munich 800m Men’s 800m final, Wottle, Boit, Arzhanov, photo by Wikipedia
Many fans and aficionados remember what happened next.
Wottle then charged ahead past the tiring Kenyans and barely ran past the leaping Arzhanov at the finish line to claim the Gold. The winning margin was 0.03 seconds!
During that era of the Cold War, Wottle’s victory raised awareness beyond the Sport. Yet fans across the globe have always admired the gutsy performance of Arzhanov as well, who shook Wottle’s hand after their race.
(To see the race, please click here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5LHid-nC45k, Munich 1972 Olympic 800m, via You Tube)
“We didn’t really have any contact during that time due to the language barrier,” said Wottle.
Yet, there are moments that can break the language barrier.
“A year later, in 1973, our team was in Minsk for a USA vs. USSR dual meet as part of the AAU tour that took us also to Germany and Italy,” said Wottle.
Competing in different races Arzhanov defeated the new 800 world record holder Rick Wolhuter, while Wottle defeated teammate Marty Liquori in the 1500 meters.
“During the meet,” recalled Wottle, “Yevgeny saw me in the stands and came running up to me to say “hi!”
“I thought he was gonna beat the crap out of me!”
Quite the opposite occurred, as the 2 competitors sat together trying to reach each other in a sign of true sportsmanship.
(Here’s the never-before-seen picture, courtesy of Dave Wottle).
In this never before seen pic, the 1972 Munich Olympic Gold Medalist Dave Wottle is joined by Silver Medalist Yevgeny Arzhanov in the stands of the Minsk stadium during the 1973 USA-USSR Dual meet. Can readers identify any of the other athletes in this pic? Photo: Courtesy of Dave Wottle (hint: famous US shot putter next to Dave Wottle).
Now, half a century later, both Olympians along with others have been thinking of one another.
A few weeks ago on social media, 1968 Olympic 800 Bronze medalist Tom Farrell reported that he had been in contact with Arzhanov, who is in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, almost surrounded by the invading Russian forces.
Yevgeny Arzhanov, today, photo courtesy of Yevgeny Arzhanov
“He said he was staying with his wife in Kyiv and they weren’t planning to leave, but couldn’t give any assurances about their safety.”
Communicating with me via this 21st-century mode of communication, Arzhanov told me it has been a “heavy situation.”
“The banks are closed,” said Arzhanov who has no financial access…It now is very bad.”
“It is terrible what is happening to Yevgeny and his people over there,” said Wottle.
“Our prayers are with him and we hope for the best.”
When informed of Wottle’s and Farrell’s comments Arzhanov seemed to light up!
“Thanks, Jeff!,” wrote Arzhanov.
“The Very Best wishes for Dave and please, Tom and for you Jeff also!”
“My dream is to meet Dave once again and drink a little whiskey with him and everyone!”
Sadly the dream is far from reality.
But, despite these unreal challenges and seemingly insurmountable odds, Arzhanov’s resolve is firm and unchanged, characteristics of a True Champion.
“Where can I go… I don’ have money anywhere,” said Arzhanov.
“Only Patriots stay here.”
“I’m a Patriot.”
“I’m sure We will Win.”
Bell Lap – World Athletics President Seb Coe and VP Sergey Bubka of Ukraine have spearheaded the movement for Ukraine