Sunday, August 26, 2007

A video history of modern freestyle wrestling

Growing up in Davenport, Iowa in 1960 I had never heard of Olympic wrestling – heck - I’d never even heard of the Olympics. I was ten years old and on every Monday in the summer, because the Davenport Times-Democrat published baseball statistics every Sunday, I could tell you the batting averages of Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews and the ERAs of Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette.

When school began we started reading about the Olympics in our Weekly Readers. I still remember how impressed I was reading about Wilma Rudolph. In those days we still all new kids who were crippled by childhood diseases that have long since been defeated – like polio. Then one day this wrestler did a Wheaties commercial on TV - we’d all been so used to seeing the Reverend Bob Richards that it was a shock to see someone else. Our gym teacher made a point to tell us that this man was Terry McCann and that he had wrestled at the University of Iowa, won an Olympic gold medal and that the two of them had been classmates. At ten, in 1960, that was just like living right next door to greatness.

If you have read my previous blogs, you know that it was watching Dan Gable that really built my interest in wrestling – but I never forgot about Terry McCann and the 1960 Olympics. Recently, there has been a lot of online discussion about how much freestyle wrestling has changed over the past several years. For Pete’s sake – the sport is at least 2,500 years old – some change was bound to happen! The United States had been winning freestyle wrestling Olympic gold medals since the twenties. Since “seeing is believing”, I’ve created a short video history of modern American freestyle wrestling.

To no avail, I’ve looked everywhere for footage of Terry McCann. Here’s the next best thing – the end of the finals match in Rome, 1960, of McCann’s teammate – fellow gold medallist Doug Blubaugh.

For many, the 1972 Olympics was a watershed for American freestyle wrestling – gold medals by Gable, Wayne Wells and Ben Peterson, silver by “funk-master” Rick Sanders and John Peterson and a bronze by Chris Taylor.

Thanks to Martin Floreani at we can see much of the action from 1972.

Rick Sanders

Wayne Wells

Dan Gable

Ben Peterson

In 1978 Lee Kemp began his extraordinary freestyle career by winning his first world championship. He would go on to win seven national freestyle titles, two more world championships, four consecutive world cups and two Pan Am Games championships. The only thing that kept him from an Olympic gold medal was the 1980 boycott.

Here is Lee winning his 1979 world championship. Please note – Ed Aliverti is the announcer.

1984 to 1992 was my personal favorite era. It wasn’t just that John Smith, Bruce Baumgartner, Dave Schultz, Kenny Monday, Nate Carr, et al, were winning all of those medals – it was the way they were doing it.

John Smith vs. Sergei Beloglasov 1989

Kenny Monday 1988 Olympic gold medal match

In 1996 the US won 3 Olympic freestyle gold medals or more for the fifth time in the post-war era.

Tom Brands vs. Jang Jae-Sung (1996 Olympic gold medal match)

Then along came Cael. Winner of 159 matches without a loss in college, America fully expected him to come home with gold in 2004. No one was disappointed.

Around since the 1990s, women’s freestyle became an Olympic sport in 2004. Unfortunately, I can find no video of the US women’s medal matches. Here are Tela O’Donnell and Sally Roberts from the 2005 Schultz International.

FILA rule changes have stirred a lot of controversy in the last couple of years.

Bill Zadick vs. Otari Tushisvili (2006 World Championships gold medal match)

Henry Cejudo vs. Nick Simmons 2007 National Championships

Now – if you haven’t already lost your job – go back to work.

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