Time Machine: Cedar Rapids, Marion well represented in Olympic history

But gold medal remains elusive

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Mark Dukes, correspondent

Editor’s note: This is a continuing series of Eastern Iowa sports history “Time Machine” articles. Mark Dukes worked at The Gazette from 1973 to 1998, the last 14 years as sports editor.

Metro area sports fans take great delight in claiming as their own a two-time major golf champion and a Super Bowl most valuable player.

The careers of golfer Zach Johnson and quarterback Kurt Warner, both Cedar Rapids Regis High School products, have been well chronicled on these pages and elsewhere.

Both reached the pinnacle of their sports. Despite a smattering of successful attempts, local high school products have not quite reached the same heights in Olympic Games competition.

A Metro high school product never has won the ultimate Olympic prize — a gold medal — despite some excellent efforts.

Barry Davis

Two years before winning a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Davis faced a crossroads in his wrestling career.

Before the 1982 Big Ten Championships, Davis had gone AWOL after he “broke’’ during a workout. He was overweight and struggling to get down to 118 pounds.

Dan Gable, Iowa’s coach at the time, searched several hours for Davis and found him outside an Iowa City grocery store. Davis had in his hands two packs of M&Ms and a half-dozen doughnuts.

“But they weren’t cream-filled,” Davis said in a 2011 Gazette interview.

Davis was found on the day of weigh-ins for the Big Ten tourney. The rest of the team already was in Ann Arbor, Mich. Gable could’ve gone ballistic on Davis, but didn’t.

“All he said was ‘Barry, what do really want to do? Do you want to wrestle or not?’” Davis said. “I just said, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’”

Davis and Gable boarded an airplane for a flight from Cedar Rapids to Michigan and made the weigh-ins just in time. While waiting for a connecting flight in Chicago, Davis and Gable went to a hotel to work out. Davis made weight and went on to win the first of his three Big Ten and NCAA titles.

“After that, it was all business,” Davis said.

Davis, also a three-time state champion at Cedar Rapids Prairie, won a gold medal in the 1983 Pan American Games and took a red-shirt year in 1984 to prepare for the Olympics.

Davis lost a grueling gold-medal match to Hideaki Tomiyama of Japan, 8-3. Davis had been dominating in six previous matches to reach the final.

Davis also made the 1988 Olympic team but failed to place, losing two of three preliminary matches in Seoul. In 1992, he was eliminated during the U.S. Trials.

Frank "Bab" Cuhel


Cuhel graduated from “old” Cedar Rapids Washington High School in 1924 and went on to a decorated career at Iowa.

He was a two-year letterman in football and three-year letterman in track for the Hawkeyes, winning the 220-yard hurdles at the 1928 NCAA meet.

At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Cuhel represented the U.S. in the 400-meter hurdles. He won his heat and finished second in the semifinals to reach the medal race.

Cuhel won the silver medal, finishing just two-tenths of a second behind David Burghley of Great Britain. Cuhel had beaten Burghley in the semifinals.

Burghley’s finals time of 53.4 seconds equaled the Olympic record set in the semifinals by American Morgan Taylor, a Sioux City native who attended Grinnell College. Taylor won the bronze medal.

After the Olympics, Cuhel became a business envoy for Dutch companies doing business with America. He later became a war correspondent for the Mutual Broadcasting Systems.

In February 1943, Cuhel died in the crash of the Boeing 314 called the Yankee Clipper in Portugal.

Washington Divers


No high school dominated diving in the 1970s and early 1980s more than Cedar Rapids Washington.

Warrior athletes won seven state championships in eight years, beginning with Doug Buchheister in 1974. Randy Ableman followed with back-to-back titles in 1976-77, then Kent Ferguson reeled off four straight championships (1978-81).

Ableman and Ferguson eventually became Olympians.

Ferguson won the 1991 World Championships and Pan American Games, and appeared to be a favorite heading into the 1992 Barcelona Games at age 29.

Ferguson got poor scores on his fourth and fifth attempts in the preliminaries and barely qualified for the finals in 12th place. But he found himself in first place after five attempts in the finals. Mediocre scores on his sixth and seventh dives sent him plummeting to 11th, but he rebounded and finished fifth.

Ableman qualified for the 1980 Olympic team in springboard diving but never got to compete. The U.S. boycotted those Olympics in Moscow.

A four-time All-American at Iowa, Ableman later experienced five Olympic Games. He was the coach for South Africa in 2008 and was a coach for the U.S. team in four other Games.

Ableman has been the head diving coach at the University of Miami since 1989.


Dale Thomas


Marion High School product Dale Thomas was in the twilight of his competitive wrestling career in 1956. But nearing the age of 34, he made the U.S. Olympic team for the Melbourne Games.

Thomas placed fifth in the light heavyweight Greco-Roman division. He was pinned twice in the preliminaries, then finished with a fall over an Austrian opponent.

He made two other Olympic appearances, as an official, in the 1960 and 1964 Games.

Thomas was a decorated collegiate wrestler, winning nine national titles. He was a member of the famed 1947 Cornell College squad that won the NCAA Championship.

He became a revered coach, guiding Oregon State teams from 1957 to 1990. He is the winningest collegiate coach of all time with 616 victories. He coached 10 NCAA champions and 60 All-Americans.

Iowa Olympic Medalists

Frank Irons Des Moines 1908 Long jump Gold
Morgan Taylor Sioux City 1924 400 hurdles Gold
Morgan Taylor Sioux City 1928 400 hurdles Bronze
Sabin Carr Dubuque 1928 Pole vault Gold
Frank Cuhel Cedar Rapids 1928 400 hurdles Silver
George Saling Corydon 1932 110 hurdles Gold
Glen Brand Clarion 1948 Wrestling Gold
Gerald Leeman Osage 1948 Wrestling Silver
Bill Smith Council Bluffs 1952 Wrestling Gold
Dan Gable Waterloo 1972 Wrestling Gold
Doreen Wilber Jefferson 1972 Archery Gold
Barry Davis Cedar Rapids 1984 Wrestling Silver
Tom Brands Sheldon 1996 Wrestling Gold
Terry Brands Sheldon 2000 Wrestling Bronze
Shawn Johnson West Des Moines 2008 Balance beam Gold
Shawn Johnson West Des Moines 2008 All-Around Silver
Shawn Johnson West Des Moines 2008 Floor exercise Silver

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