Dan Gable- From Personal Tragedy To Olympic Gold
Few athletes can claim to have a Hall of Fame named after them, but Dan Gable managed to leave his legacy appended to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum, located in Waterloo, Iowa.
In a class by himself, Gable was America’s all-time greatest wrestler and coach, competing in college during the late ‘60’s and ‘70’s and coaching into the ‘90’s. For the Iowa native, winning was never enough and the only way he knew to compete and deal with personal tragedy was to assume total domination of his sport.
As a young high school sophomore growing up in a seemingly wholesome farm belt state, Dan was struck by tragedy when his older sister Diane was murdered at home while the rest of the family was out of town. The killer, a classmate of Dan, pled guilty and spent the rest of his life in prison.
With the family left shattered, Dan confronted the horrific tragedy by pouring everything he had into wrestling. Fundamentally, the wrestling discipline requires strength, skill, athleticism and more than anything, a measure of heart. Success on the mat became a way to distract the Gables from their deep sorrow.
Victories started to pile up and the wrestling prodigy finished his years at Waterloo West High as a three-time Iowa state champ with a perfect 64-0 record. Success continued at Iowa State University, where Dan won 117 straight matches and earned two NCAA titles.
The Cyclone star’s grueling workouts were legendary and his supremacy on the mat was undisputed. During his junior year, Gable recorded pins in 25 straight matches. However, at his final faceoff in college, the young wrestler was upset by Washington’s Larry Owings in the 142-pound title encounter, ending his 181-match winning streak.
Dismayed but even more determined, Gable’s emotional wrought fueled the next phase of his competitive career.
He was crowned World Freestyle champion at 68 kg in 1971, then qualified for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Although he suffered a knee injury in the first-round, Gable did not surrender a single point in the Olympics and ended up taking gold in his weight category.
In his final 21 Olympic qualification and Games matches, the talented athlete recorded 12 falls and outscored his opponents 130-1. Gannett News Services honored Gable’s spectacular accomplishments by naming him top wrestler of the 20th Century.
When his career on the mat ended, Dan continued to be a wrestling leader, first as a coach, then as a writer and ambassador for the sport. He took the reins as head coach at Iowa in 1976 and quickly established a dynasty that included 15 NCAA team championships (including 9 in a row), 21 consecutive Big Ten titles, and a dominant 355-21-5 dual meet record.
In addition to his enormous success with the Hawkeyes, Gable was named head coach of the US freestyle team for the 1980, 1984, and 2000 Olympic Games.
Besides a museum bearing his name, the wrestling icon was immortalized in the form of a 7 ft bronze statue outside the Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.
The Gable grip, a popular wrestling hold named after its legendary grappler, developed multiple uses in martial arts as well. When executed, the hold is extremely difficult for opponents to break, a fitting metaphor to the life of a wrestling giant whose unshakeable perseverance was born out of personal tragedy.
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