Full disclosure, I wrestled for all four years of high school.
When Dan Gable retired as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, during my freshman year of high school, it was a huge event in the wrestling world.
That year, I read everything I could about him.
Throughout high school, I had many conversations about Gable’s career with the other wrestlers.
In the American political lexicon, going to Iowa means running for president.
In the world of high school wrestling, "going to Iowa" meant training at Dan Gable’s summer camp.
He was undefeated in high school (64-0) and he only lost one match in college (117-1).
He lost his final match against Larry Owings in the finals of the NCAA Division 1 finals.
He already won the tournament during his sophomore and junior year for the Iowa State Cyclones.
It was one of the biggest upsets in sports.
He'd already beat Owings before.
He would avenge this loss and beat Owings again in the Olympic trials.
During the Olympic trials, he outscored his opponents 130-1. The only person who scored a point on him was Larry Owings. He lost to Gable 7-1.
While the loss hurt him, the Gable family had already experienced a tragedy that was far worse. When Dan Gable was 15-years-old, his older sister, Diane, was murdered in their family home.
Her killer, John Thomas Kyle, was eventually caught. In 1977, he escaped prison for six months, but was caught again in Florida.
In 2011, Kyle died in prison.
It was reported that Dan Gable trained for seven hours every day since he was 14-years-old. Undoubtably, wrestling gave him an outlet to deal with his pain.
Dan’s success in wrestling gave his parents something to cheer about.
When Gable went to the 1972 Summer Olympics, he won the Gold medal.
The 1972 Olympics is known to many because of the Munich, Germany Massacre.
Eleven Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists.
At the height of the Cold War, the success of the Soviet Olympic team was used as a tool to spread communist propaganda.
The Soviets had one goal: they wanted to find a wrestler that could beat Gable. They failed.
The Soviets actually won the 1972 Olympics.
The Soviets won more Gold medals and total medals than any other team.
The Soviets won 50 gold medals while the Americans won 33 gold medals.
The Soviet Union narrowly beat the United States in total medals (99-94).
In the wrestling category, the Soviets won the wrestling category by winning nine gold medals out of 20 available.
The American team won three gold medals.
Thirty medals were up for grabs in free style and another thirty medals in Greco-Roman style. The Soviets won 14 out of 60 total medals.
The Americans won six medals overall.
To the Soviets, the Olympics were an opportunity to score propaganda points.
Yet, the Soviet’s numerical advantage in medals didn’t matter.
The focus was on Gable and not the other wrestlers.
Gable did something no Olympic wrestler has ever done.
He won six matches without anyone scoring a point on him.
He pinned three of his opponents.
As for the other three Olympians, he defeated his German opponent, Klaus Rost, by 20 points. He defeated Silver medalist, Kikuo Wada (Japan), by 6 points and Bronze medalist, Ruslan Ashuraliyev (Soviet Union), by 3 points.
This miracle overshadowed everything else the Soviets accomplished in the other weight classes. On that day, Dan Gable was the personification of American freedom and determination.
At the Olympic level, wrestling is not simply a test of skill, but stamina and determination. By winning the Olympics, Dan Gable showed the Soviets that America was not soft.
It was for that reason that I believe Dan Gable deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If that wasn’t enough, he is regarded by many as the greatest college wrestling coach as well.
As head coach, the Iowa Hawkeyes won 21 Big Ten titles and 15 NCAA Division 1 titles. He coached 152 All-Americans, 45 national champions and 12 Olympians.
Wrestling was his life. Through his example, Gable taught his athletes, and others, to live a life that was defined by their passion. When the pandemic ends next year, I hope Gable’s story will inspire all of us to return to our lives with a renewed purpose.
Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. His work has appeared in a range of publications, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. For several years Robert worked closely with Peter Hannaford, a senior aide to Ronald Reagan, as the primary researcher on four books and numerous columns. Robert has also worked on multiple presidential, national and statewide campaigns, including as a field office staffer for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Due to his own Russian-Jewish heritage, Robert has a keen interest in the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. In 2017 he was the co-organizer of an effort that erected commemorative statue of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Robert graduated with a major in Political Science from the University at Buffalo, and received his Master's in Public Administration, with a focus in healthcare, from the State University of New York College at Brockport. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in Rochester, New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.
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