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Dan Gable watched his wife, Kathy, watch wrestling during last week’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“She really likes to watch the wrestling,” said a man who won wrestling gold at the 1972 Games in Munich and later coached the University of Iowa to 15 NCAA titles in 21 years. “She was really into it.”
One match in particular caught her attention. Minnesota wrestler Gable Steveson battling three-time world champion Geno Petriashvili for gold.
“That was big to me,” Gable said of Kathy’s reaction.
Steveson — full name Gable Dan Steveson and, yes, named after the Iowa wrestling legend — won the gold medal.
Another gold for another Gable. Pretty cool.
“It was pretty exciting,” the original Gable said.
Dan Gable was more than a little excited to see the United States shine so brightly on wrestling’s biggest stage. This was, after all, the year — or rather the Games — wrestling was supposed to go away from the Olympics.
In 2013, the International Olympic Committee voted to drop wrestling from the Summer Games, effective in 2020. A sport that was part of the original Olympic program in 1896 in Athens — in the form of Greco-Roman — and has offered freestyle since 1904 was getting dumped.
Thanks to the efforts of people like Gable, however, the sport was reinstated.
And now — with nine total medals — the United States is in a very good spot. The nine medals are more than any other nation this year and the most for the United States since the boycotted 1974 Games.
“And that’s only two of the three sports,” Gable said. “It’s kind of sad we can’t figure Greco-Roman out ... we should be able to do that.”
Never satisfied, a Gable trademark. But, in reality, he was feeling pretty good about how the United State performed and, of course, all the Iowa “fingers” involved.
There was Thomas Gilman, of course, the former Iowa standout who took home a bronze medal, the first former Hawkeye to win a medal since Terry Brands and Lincoln McIlravy won bronze in 2000.
There was David Taylor, coached by former Iowa State star (and Olympic gold medalist) Cael Sanderson at Penn State, winning gold. There was Kyle Snyder, who wrestled for former Hawkeye Tom Ryan at Ohio State, getting silver. And there was Tamyra Mensah-Stock winning gold in women’s freestyle. The U.S. women’s freestyle national team coach is former Hawk Terry Steiner.
All five men’s freestyle wrestlers won medals. The men’s senior freestyle program is headed by Bill Zadick, yet another former Hawkeye wrestler.
And if you want to stretch this a bit farther, Kyle Dake — the fifth U.S. medalist last week — was coached at Cornell College by Rob Koll, whose father Bill was born in Fort Dodge and was an unbeaten three-time NCAA champ at Northern Iowa, where he later coached.
“We do have a lot of stock in those nine medals,” Gable said. “All those touches make the sport great.”
Gable, of course, was particularly interested in Steveson’s success — the two have met several times and “we have a good relationship,” Dan said — and Gilman. Even though Gilman now wrestles for the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, he was a three-time All-American at Iowa.
Once a Hawk always a Hawk.
“Gilman wrestled good enough to win the gold,” Gable said.
Gable thought the wrestling coverage could have been better nationally, but he’s happy with the direction the sport has taken since 2013.
“We do have the opportunity now to really showcase our sport,” he said.
He’s happy with the work United World Wrestling (formerly FILA) has done and said having president Nenad Lalović on the IOC is key.
“I’m really happy the leaders of our sport are doing better things,” Gable said. “We’re starting to fit in better (with other Olympic sports). You don’t want to be isolated.”
But, he added, “we’re not doing it perfect.” He thinks the sports needs to continue to promote itself better and do it in an organized way, just like it did in 2013 when all was almost lost.
“I don’t think you ever throw a good thing out the door,” he said of the organized effort that has now dissolved.
But, he said, “I think it’s much better than we were for a long time.”
And the state of Iowa can take a lot of pride in the success.
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