Patty van Wolvelaere
Class of 1968
Patty van Wolvelaere
There was no track and field team for girls at Renton (Wa.) High School in 1965, when 15-year-old Patty van Wolvelaere yearned to prove herself against the best. Title IX was still several years away. But that didn’t stop the talented freshman sprinter and hurdler. A physical education teacher connected her with Angels AAU Track Club and van Wolvelaere took advantage of every opportunity. She had great speed and soon learned to hurdle distances from 50 yards to 200 meters.
Van Wolvelaere had immediate success, especially at the 200m hurdles where as a sophomore in 1966 she ran to world records of 28.0, 27.6 and 27.4, and then 27.3 three times as a senior in 1968. Then Olympic hurdle distance for women back in those days was 80 meters, however, so van Wolvelaere honed her speed at that distance. Along the way the next two years, she would also set a variety of prep, national and world records at 50 and 60 yards and started to rack up AAU medals and titles.
At the prized 80mH distance, van Wolvelaere lowered her record-breaking times from 10.8 in ’67 to 10.65 and 10.60 the following year. She made it to the 1968 Olympic Trials and placed second to earn her ticket to Mexico City. Advancing through the heats and semis, she toed the line in the 80mH final and blasted a 10.5 for 4th – just a tenth of a second from the bronze medal for the HS senior. In all, she set 15 high school records as a prep, along with her titles and other records.
Van Wolvelaere was hardly done at that point, as the standard international hurdling distance was increased to 100m. She won the 1971 Pan American Games at that distance, plus four AAU titles and four straight 60y indoor AAU crowns during the 1970s – all while setting multiple American records. On her 2nd Olympic team in Munich in 1972, she made the semifinals before bowing out. After a stint in junior college, van Wolvelaere became the first scholarship T&F athlete at USC in 1975, going on to two AIAW victories (pre-NCAA days) and an eventual PR of 13.14 in 1978. After college, she became a firefighter and, later, a track coach at Ramona HS in California (as Patty Weirich). In 2017 she was picked for the USATF Hall of Fame.
Did You Know?
During the mid-1970s, Patty van Wolvelaere was a member of the Wilt’s Wonder Women track club, launched by legendary Hall of Fame basketball player Wilt Chamberlain.