Saturday, August 5, 2017

Honorary Track Alumni Golfer Dave Wottle Tuning Up For His 1972 Gold Medal

With the recent post detailing a neat episode in Jim Ryun's life from his son, I had opportunity to ask Greg Fredericks whether he ever raced Jim Ryun.  At the time, I never figured he had jumped into the middle distance territory of America's greatest miler and the (future) 800M Olympic Gold Medalist Dave Wottle.

But he did, and we have exquisite video proof if you can tolerate the first 2:43 of 10 guys shaking their legs in the damp April chill.  You can almost see Coach Groves standing at the wall under the clock. Greg even led 2/3 of the race enroute to one of his many 4:01.x and 4:00.x efforts in the lead up to his eventual sub-4 mile in 1978 (3:59.7)!

The 1972 Dream Mile

And here's a nice write up about Greg unearthed from the way-back machine.

 Greg Fredericks by Peter Gambaccini

Greg Fredericks was second in the 10,000 meters at the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials, making the Olympic team that, alas, boycotted the Moscow Games. Fredericks had won a U.S. championship in the 10,000 in 1972, setting an American record of 28:08.0, and was the 1975 U.S. cross-country champion. The Penn State graduate had career bests of 13:34 for 5000 and 28:03 for 10,000. He now works in computer support at the Applied Research Lab on the Penn State campus.

Runner's World Daily: Take us back to your first U.S. title, the 10,000 in 1972.
Greg Fredericks: That was the race where I beat Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, and Tom Laris and broke Billy Mills's American record. Based on that, people think I made the Olympic team that year.

RWD: What did happen at the '72 Trials?
GF: What it really comes down to is Frank Shorter took everybody out and just dropped us all. It was one of those extremely unusual periods in Eugene where it was like 95 degrees. They were hosing the track down. A bunch of runners, like Jeff Galloway, were training in the heat and humidity of Florida. But it didn't really matter. Shorter set a fast pace and the rest of us died off of it.

RWD: What kept you from winning any NCAA titles while at Penn State?
GF: Steve Prefontaine. I got second to him all the time. Although in my senior year, 1972, we had a great 5000 race. He ran the second-fastest American time. I ran the fourth fastest.

RWD: For the 1980 Trials, were you back in the 10,000 because you were getting older and the 10-K didn't require the leg speed of the 5-K?
GF: I never viewed it that way. I always thought my better chance was in the 10-K because I had more speed than most 10-K guys. I had actually broken 4:00 for the mile [a 3:59.7] in 1978; I was always around it for most of my career, but had never taken a really good shot at it.

RWD: Having made the team, what was your mindset about the Americans not being allowed to go to Moscow?
GF: I couldn't fathom that the U.S. would not enter a team. I just went out with the idea that we were definitely going to find a way. It wasn't until we warmed down, took our drug test, and got further instructions from our specific event coach and he handed us a schedule. There was no Olympic Games on it.

RWD: How long after that did you keep running at the elite level?
GF: I went through the Olympic Trials in '84 in LA. I stepped off the track and haven't competed since. The way I recall it, I was the first nonqualifier for the final. A dubious distinction.

RWD: What's your involvement with the sport now?
GF: From about '85 to '95 I was involved in our Centre County Special Olympics, coaching the track-and-field athletes. And we've decided to get youth cross-country going in our county, starting this fall for kids 14 and under. A lot of kids grow up liking to run, but there's nothing for them in the cross-country vein in this area.

RWD: Did you ever get involved in masters racing?
GF: No. My body just doesn't hold to the rigors it requires to take care of business. I run about 30 miles a week now. About a year ago, I started going down to the track every Thursday. It's tough, the hamstrings in particular. I was never that flexible to begin with. The first thing we did on the track was a quarter. My brain was attuned to doing them in 60, 61. We went out and ran one and I heard "something-seven." I thought, "67? It sure felt faster than 67." It was a 77, and I was hurting pretty bad. It's taken me about a year now to where I feel comfortable running low 70s.

RWD: Does Haile Gebrselassie astonish you?
GF: Oh yeah. We'll look at his results and say, "Do you know what that is per quarter?" It's just phenomenal. We're starting to really visualize the fact that somebody's going to be running 60 seconds per lap for 10-K. That's just astounding. We'll see it. I'm pretty confident we will.

Penn State Records

5000 Meters 13:34.0 Greg Fredericks 1972
10,000 Meters 28:08.0 Greg Fredericks 1972

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