WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump presented the nation’s highest civilian honor Monday to Dan Gable, a renowned wrestler and legendary coach from the University of Iowa who won a gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
“He’s the greatest wrestler, probably ever,” Trump said in bestowing the award in a White House ceremony witnessed by Gable’s grandchildren. “He’s made our country very proud and he’s a true GOAT,” short for greatest of all time.
Trump used an October campaign rally at the Des Moines International Airport to announce the selection of Gable for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, bringing him on stage to the delight of the crowd as he sought to win over Iowa voters.
The ceremony at the White House fulfills that commitment.
Gable is one of several sports figures to be presented the award during Trump’s time in office. Gable was a champion wrestler at Iowa State University, compiling a 117-1 record and winning two NCAA titles. During his six matches at the Munich Olympics, he went unscored upon.
Gable would go on to an incredibly successful coaching career at the UI, where his teams won 15 NCAA titles.
“I wouldn’t be here on this podium if I just had won this Olympic Gold Medal,” Gable said at the ceremony. “It has been a lifetime of work, learning from many others to be an outstanding competitor and person, then taking that knowledge and applying it to many, many others in different ways to have them perform at their highest so they can be real successful, and that group of individuals become team members. And because of their individual great performances, great, historic teams and family performances are the results.
“Proof is in the results,” he added. “and the proof is here today: my immediate family of 23, who are all right here, led by my wife, Kathy, of 46 years. They are living it and, because of this, they all have better chances of success. They are witnessing this historic moment of someone quite ordinary, mostly, going to the highest level as an athlete, and then helping others to do the same through the professional level of coaching.”
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Trump also used the ceremony to push his false narrative that he won the election, saying at one point: “I’m 2-0 and that’s pretty good, too. But we’ll see how that turns out.”
The president also joked with Gable about a match between the two.
“Now, I’m larger than you, a little bit. Do you think I could take you in wrestling? Would I have a big advantage?” Trump asked.
“No, you would have no chance,” Gable replied to laughter.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to people who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to its culture or to other significant endeavors.
Last week, Trump presented the medal to college football Hall of Famer and political ally Lou Holtz, whose 34-year coaching career included the 1988 national title at the University of Notre Dame.