Dave Wottle used to remember every step of the race that changed his life.
He could watch the ABC broadcast, place himself back in lane 3 of Munich's Olympic Stadium and tell you what the lanky 21-year-old ROTC student with the white painter's cap was thinking that September day at the 1972 Olympics.
"I could see the race through my eyes," said Wottle, 61, a Bowling Green (Ohio) State University graduate, and recently retired dean of admissions at Rhodes College in Memphis.
But over the years, his perspective shifted. The race no longer seemed entirely real.
As the 800 race unfolded, Wottle fell out of the picture. Really. He was 10 yards behind the next-to-last runner after 200 meters, so far out of contention that he disappeared from the television screen. The announcer wondered if Wottle was "seriously injured."
The video does not get old because the outcome never feels assured.
"Now I see the race through the camera's eyes," he said.
Four decades later, Wottle's gold-medal finishing kick to overtake the favored Soviet Evgeni Arzhanov by less than the bill of his cap remains one of the indelible moments in U.S. Olympic history.
At a Games overshadowed by the terrorist attack remembered as the Munich Massacre, Wottle provided a feel-good note that defied all convention.
Wottle was written off by U.S. coaches after he got married weeks before the Olympics, competed in an unfamiliar event and began the bell lap in last place.
Forgive him if he was too stunned to take off his hat on the medal stand during the national anthem, a move many thought was a sign of protest but in truth mortified the unassuming introvert.
One recent night, he told Jan, his wife of 39 years, "I have a hard time believing I was ever able to do it."
Though exceedingly modest, that is why he gladly accepts the continuing requests from schools and businesses and clubs to share his experience. It is simply a great story.
"Why would you ever get tired of talking about such a wonderful thing?" Wottle said in a phone interview from his Memphis home.
Start at Bowling Green, where the 139-pound Canton, Ohio, native became one of the nation's top amateur distance runners. Wottle was a natural. Though he viewed training as a chore -- he stays fit these days with church-league basketball instead of running -- his teammates provided the necessary push.
Wottle finished second in the 1500 at the NCAA Championships as a freshman in 1970 and captured the title in 1972. The next year, he won the mile in an NCAA-record 3 minutes, 57.1 seconds.
As the Munich Games approached, he lasered his focus on the 1500. He enrolled in the 800 at the trials only after a nudge from BGSU coach Mel Brodt, who suggested Wottle use the two-lap race for speed work.
Then, history intervened.
Wottle won the 800 at the trials in Eugene, Ore. His time of 1:44.3 matched a world record.
The kid from BGSU suddenly vaulted atop the track and field world, though his honeymoon lasted until, well, his honeymoon. Against the wishes of U.S. coach Bill Bowerman, a charter member of the old school, Wottle planned to get married between the trials and the Olympics in September.
Wottle advanced to the 800 final, though a training regimen limited by tendinitis in his knees appeared to catch up with him. He plummeted to the back of the eight-man field -- and then some. While Wottle was known for lagging behind before making a late charge, this was different.
"You never go into a race like that saying you're going to give these guys 10 yards and reel them in at the end," said Wottle. "Not a good race strategy. Even in my other races, I'd be behind, but I'd be in contact with the back of the pack."
Wottle made up ground on the second lap, but he still had four runners to pass as late as the final turn.
Wottle, though, maintained his pace -- he ran virtually even splits -- and the field receded. ABC announcer Jim McKay, his voice rising, called the final 75 meters in near-disbelief: "He's got one Kenyan. ... He's got the other Kenyan. ... Can he make it? ... I think he did it! ... Dave Wottle won the gold medal! ... The man who came out of nowhere at the U.S. Olympic Trials."
Wottle was euphoric, stunned and, finally, rocked.
The first question in the postrace news conference? What were you protesting by keeping your hat on during the medal ceremony and anthem?
"Here I am, a ROTC student thinking, 'By God.' It just hit me like a ton of bricks," Wottle said. "I remember getting teary-eyed and was very apologetic. I didn't know I had my hat on."
Wottle still has the Western Union telegrams that soon arrived from President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew.
"Hats on or off, you're the type of American I respect," Agnew wrote.
Wottle, who retired from running three years later, likes to tell people the hat beat him into the U.S. Track & Field Hall of Fame by five years. Traditionally a slow starter, Wottle was inducted in 1977.
"It's all still amazing to me," he said.