The 2008 Summer Olympics are coming up later this year. My first duathlon of the year is coming up on April 27 and my first triathlon of the year will be May 17. So, I'm in the mood to talk about some of my favorite runners.
I start you out with David ("Dave") James Wottle. In the Olympic year 1972, Wottle equaled the world record over 800m of 1:44.3 at the US Olympic Trials. In the Olympic 800m final, Wottle immediately dropped to the rear of the field, and stayed there for the first 500m, at which point he started to pass runner after runner up the final straight, finally grabbing the lead in the final metres to win by just 0.03 seconds. This was one of the most exciting running races in Track & Field for a young lad of eleven stuck in North Dakota.
And who could forget the controversy over the men's 100m? At the 1972 Munich Olympics, two American sprinters (Eddie Hart and Reynaud Robinson) missed the 100m finals due to a misunderstanding about the starting time of the heats. After Russian Valeri Borzov won the 100 m sprint with relative ease, the Americans promised they would beat Borzov in the 200m competition.
However, with all three Americans in the final this time, Borzov won again in a great style. As a consolation, the Americans won the relays with the Soviets taking second place.
Then there was Lasse Virén. I bring up Virén because this was my first introduction into athletic controversy with blood doping. You see, Virén had an uncanny ability to peak at the Summer Olympic Games. And it raised many questions.
At the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich, Virén won both the 5,000 and the 10,000 meter events. At the 10,000 meter final held on September 3rd, Virén broke Ron Clarke's 7-year old world record despite falling in the twelfth lap after getting tangled with Frank Shorter. In less than a lap, Virén caught up with the leading pack, after losing about 100 meters. With 600 meters to go, Virén dropped the hammer and started an unprecedented lap-and-a-half kick that only Belgium's Emiel Puttemans was able to respond to, but not outmatch. The Finn won the race in 27:38:40.
Perhaps even more impressive...and just as eye-brow raising....was at the 1976 Summer Olympics, Virén again won both events, becoming the only repeat winner of the 5,000 meter race in Olympic history. In the 5,000 meter final, he held off all-time greats Dick Quax, Rod Dixon, and Brendan Foster (all world-class at 1,500 m) with a devastating display of front-running over the last few laps. To those who watched him, the display was awesomely inspiring to the point that his last 1,500 meters in that final would have placed him 4th in the 1,500-meter final held at those Games. Remarkably, 18 hours after the 5,000-meter final, he competed in the men's marathon and finished fifth in 2:13:11.
Virén was alleged to have been involved in the practice of blood boosting which involves freezing blood plasma, then having it returned to the body later to improve the oxygen content by increasing the red cell count. The practice was legal at the time but many still considered it cheating on moral grounds. Virén himself has never acknowledged any involvement in this practice. In fact, he was once offered $1 million by a magazine to reveal the truth of that matter. When he explained that the truth was that he never doped, the magazine rescinded the offer. Virén figured he could only tell the truth.
Posted by email@example.com at April 17, 2008 1:02 AM