I've seen a lot of Dan Watcke over the years to determine whether or not he should be on the Mount Rushmore of Illinois 800m runners. Even after he lost the opportunity to win his second consecutive state title in 2022, I frankly said to him, 'Yo, you got to stop messing around with these guys with this sit and kick tactic!'
No, I don't or will not take one ounce of credit for the Hinsdale Central living legend success. That honor goes to his parents Mr. and Mrs. Craig, Molly Watcke, and his coaches Jim Westphal and Noah Lawrence. Mix in his teammates who had to compete with him day in and day out and you get the best half-miler in the history of the state.
The Watcke name is synonymous with the local, state, and national radar scene. At least to me, it is.
I remember watching Dan's father Craig Watcke winning the 1985 Indiana State Championship 3200m by a wide margin. It was incredible at the time. Dan's mother competed for the University of Michigan (Big 10 5K champion as Molly McClimon) and collected numerous honors over her career. She ran 2:14 and 4:55 as a prep. If case you are wondering about her maiden name, her father was the legendary Dan McClimon of the University of Wisconsin. Coach McClimon passed away from a plane crash in 1983. I remember hearing about it back then and it came to light when I ran a junior olympics cross country championship race in Madison, Wisconsin a year later.
I cannot forget about Dan's older sister Emma Watcke who was a state champion in Ohio before trekking to the land of Lincoln for her junior year. Emma's success at Hinsdale Central was fruitful in that she garnered a handful of all-state honors, including a state runner-up title in the 1600m.
Dan breaks down his time as an Illinois prep after the state championships
My first take with Dan was after he won the Frosh-Soph cross country race at the Naperville Twilight Invite. It was there that I knew a young but confident Dan Watcke was for real.
He won two state titles in the 800 and dropped several mega-ton bombs over the course of a calendar year. We anchored the Nike Outdoor National Championship 4x800 in 2022, the New Balance indoor 4x800 crown, the IL state title relay plus the open half-mile, and then the outdoor NIKE 4x800 title in an US#1 and #2 all-time mark of 7:29.20. GEEZ!!!
In a tune-up for the upcoming U20s, Watcke needed to make a statement to himself and anyone else who had pending questions. They were answered at the Portland Track Festival. Watcke pitted against a slew of professional runners in the penultimate 800m section, held his own. More than enough. I watch intently as Dan got out well and fast, passing by the first lap in 52.26.
Watcke held strong through the 600 and despite being nested among more experienced runners, he was able to find a sliver on the homestretch and sprint to the finish in what appeared to be lane three. It was the "jailbreak" moment that most fans expected to see from their favorite son. Watcke appeared to have the section win for a moment. But no it was the pro runner Matt Wisner sliding past for the win in 1:47.39. Watcke's slick 1:47.70 cannot go unnoticed though. It takes down Sean Torpy of Sandburg's all-time best of 1:47.95 from 2016.
So, once again let's hear it for DAN WATCKE! CHEERS!!!!