by Michael A. Musca
Rick Wohlhuter was the 800-meter bronze medalist in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and is the last American to qualify for both the 800 and 1500-meter runs in the same Olympics; he placed sixth in the 1500. He had won both events at the '76 U.S. Olympic Trials. Wohlhuter is still listed as the U.S. outdoor 1000-meter record holder for his 2:13.9 from 1974. A Chicago area native who attended Notre Dame, Wohlhuter won the 1974 Sullivan Award as the nation's top amateur athlete. Straddling the eras of "yards" and "meters," he set a world record for the 880-yard run and two U.S. records for 800 meters; he also set a world record for 1000 meters. He won the 1973 and 1974 U.S. 800-meter titles outdoors and was the U.S. indoor 1000-yard champion in 1974, 1975, and 1976. For Notre Dame, he was the IC4A 880-yard champ in 1971 and 1972. He is still #5 on the all-time U.S. 800-meter list with a 1:43.5. Married with two children, he lives in Chicago's western suburbs.
Runner's World Daily: You said your mile PR is 3:53.3, right?
Wohlhuter: Correct, my best mile time is 3:53.3. Good for an 800 meter runner at the time.
RWD: When and where did you set the mile PR? At the time, did you think you would run a faster time later on?
Wohlhuter: I ran a mile PR in May 1975 at the USTFF meet in Wichita, Kansas. Great meet, great track. Of course, I thought that I would run faster in a future meet, closer to 3:50. However, I was more interested in bettering the world record at 800 meters and 1000 meters.
RWD: Who were you coached by, after college? Did you run for a club? Or train by yourself? What plans did you follow?
Wohlhuter: I competed for the University of Chicago Track Club (UCTC) and was coached by Ted Haydon. Ted organized the track club and coached the University of Chicago track and cross-country teams. The UCTC was open to all runners, regardless of ability. We competed in open track meets and would occasionally run dual meets against Big Ten teams. I trained at the University of Chicago's indoor and outdoor facilities. I ran all track workouts by myself. Ted ran the stopwatch.
RWD: What sort of mileage were you running?
Wohlhuter: I would average about 50 miles per week all year round. During the fall, I would run road work until mid-December, when I would begin indoor track workouts. I based my on-the-track training schedule on short-rest intervals and hard speed work. Always short rest. I also ran most mornings.
RWD: Can you describe one or more of your toughest workouts?
Wohlhuter: I had several hard days each week. Early in the week, I would run 20 times 200 meters under 30 seconds with a fast 200-meter jog between each interval. Midweek, I often ran longer intervals from 400 meters to one mile, always jogging between each one. On occasion, I would run a single one and one-half mile trial in a time between 6:20 and 6:30 minutes. Thursday was long speed work, usually several 600 meters at race pace or faster. Sometimes I would run four 400s averaging 49-50 seconds with about 20 seconds between each one. Sunday was a long run. My training schedule consisted of one hard day followed by an easy day. My easy day was often speedwork.
RWD: What were the challenges of training for both events, the 800 and1500?
Wohlhuter: Foremost, I considered myself an 800-meter runner. I trained specifically for the 800 and raced over one mile/1500 occasionally. I believed that to be the world's best at 800 meters, I must focus all my efforts on 800 meter training and tactics.
RWD: What are you doing now?
Wohlhuter: I have several business ventures. Primarily, I work on a variety of projects for Fortune 500 companies as a consultant. Additionally, I invest in and trade stocks and options in the financial markets. I like the variety and the personal freedom this work-style offers. I have been consulting since 1992 and trading since 2000.
RWD: Do you still follow track and field in newspapers, magazines, or on the Internet?
Wohlhuter: I have not followed track and field closely for some time now. I do enjoy watching track meets on cable television and reading articles about track meets and various runners. I attend college track meets from time-to-time at Notre Dame (where I attended college) and at North Central College near where I live. I also attend the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana in November.
RWD: Are you still running, competitively or to stay in shape?
Wohlhuter: I still stay in shape as best I can. I run, bicycle, or swim every day. My intensity is lower than when I was competing, but I enjoy getting out of doors, and I train every day.
RWD: Do you ever see your name in the news regarding the Olympics or running in general?
Wohlhuter: I occasionally see my name in the local papers especially during an Olympic year. There is a big middle school track meet named after me that is still held in my home town each spring. As an Olympic athlete, I attend dinners and other functions in the Chicago area. I have traveled as far as Europe for events.
RWD: What do you think of drug problems in track (at least in the news)? Does it mar the sport for you?
Wohlhuter: Use of performance drugs was a problem when I competed in the 1970s and persists today. I have several friends who used performance drugs and now have health problems. It is very sad. I am very glad I did not use drugs of any kind to enhance my athlete performance. It is disappointing to read about accusations of drug use by athletes; the problem seems to cover all sports. Drugs have left a large overhanging cloud. I worry that eventually the public may lose interest in sports and stop going to events.
RWD: Do you still have any of your memorabilia and your medal from the 1976 Olympics?
Wohlhuter: I have memorabilia: uniforms, awards including an Olympic medal, team rings, newspaper articles, and various other items. Some items are in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in New York City.
RWD: Do you have any video or film of the 1976 Olympic Games and your races?
Wohlhuter: A friend gave me a VHS tape featuring the 800 and 1500 meters finals from multiple Olympic Games. My races are on the tape.
RWD: What do your children think of your athletic accomplishments?
Wohlhuter: My son, particularly, was interested in duplicating my accomplishments. His athletic pursuits were more modest than mine, but he learned how to compete and work hard to fulfill a goal.
RWD: Your niece was a high school state champion. What is she up to now? Running in college?
Wohlhuter: My niece was a very good high school runner in track and cross country, a state champion at 800 meters and individual state champion in cross country. Unfortunately, she incurred several athletic injuries in college and has only been able to train and compete on a very limited basis. Hopefully, she will overcome her injuries and run well to fulfill her potential.
RWD: Your PRs in the mile and especially in the 800 meters would hold up today among Americans and even in world competition. Why were runners of your day so accomplished?
Wohlhuter: I can only speak for myself. Although I trained specifically for the 800, when I ran the mile, I thought of myself as a great miler. Each season, I would enter two or three mile races where the best runners in the world were also entered. Naturally I was going to run a fast time.
RWD: Should Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic 400-meter gold medalist, step up to the 800?
Wohlhuter: Not at this time. If he is looking for new challenges, perhaps the 800 might be the answer. Training and race tactics are very different for the 800 than for the 400. In order to race and succeed at the highest level in the 800, Mr. Wariner will have to completely give up the 400 and see himself as an 800-meter runner. Only then will he have a chance to be the best at the longer distance. Surprisingly, there have been few 400-meter runners who successfully made the transition.
RWD: How did you feel about running against Cuban Alberto "El Caballo" Juantorena, the double gold medalist in the 400 and the 800, at the Montreal Games? You aren't a big guy and Juantorena was a rather large athlete.
Wohlhuter: Size has no bearing on success in the running events. Mr. Juantorena was successful at the Montreal Games because he trained hard and raced hard to win.
RWD: You also doubled in the 800/1500 at Montreal. What tactics did you use to get through the numerous heats and semi-finals?
Wohlhuter: I ran six races in seven days, a very hard double at the time. To get to the finals in both events, I had to run the semi-final as if it were the final. I took nothing for granted. I always ran for one of the guaranteed spots. The worse thing to happen is be on the ropes waiting to see if you qualified for the next round. Too many runners employee poor tactics in multi-round events and miss out qualifying usually because of a slow time. Superb tactics are everything in big meets.
RWD: Much has been made of Steve Prefontaine's running prowess, but he didn't medal in the Games. You, on the other hand, medaled in the 800 and ran sixth in the 1500, but your accomplishments are not as well known by younger runners. Why do you think that is? Was it possibly your subdued winning style, or that you were not as cocky as Pre?
Wohlhuter: Pre was a great runner and personality. Some say his untimely death catapulted him to cult status in the running community. I think Pre catapulted track and field into the public's mind by his work ethic and his determination to win. I traveled and ran meets with Steve and Ralph Mann (world recordholder in the intermediate hurdles) one summer in Europe. Before a big meet, Steve was just like every other competitor: a bit anxious about how well he would run that day. But once on the track, he was different from the rest of us, his force of will just took over. His emotions would run high when he won or very low when he lost. I, on the other hand, was less emotional than Steve. Pre's accomplishments were frozen in time by his unfortunate death; no one can compete with his legend.
RWD: What were the athlete housing conditions at the Montreal Games?
Wohlhuter: There were eleven athletes in my room in Montreal. The rooms in Munich were crowded, too. It was great having so many teammates together, but one bathroom
was not enough.
RWD: Was there a cloud hanging over the Montreal Games, leftover from the terrorist attacks at the Munich 1972 Games?
Wohlhuter: I do not think there was any significant spillover from the terrorist attacks at Munich. However, security was very tight in and around the village where we athletes lived. The fence surrounding the village in Munich was about six feet high; the fence in Montreal was about 20 feet high. That tells it all.