Monday, September 3, 2007

Favorite wrestling moments

There have been a lot of memorable moments in the 30+ years that I've been going to wrestling meets. Here's a short list of my favorites.

The first time I saw Dan Gable

In 1969 I rode with a friend to see Gable wrestle in a dual meet. I can't recall the opponent, but I do remember the double arm bars - and the pin.

Watching an acquaintance

Virginia Wohlers was a classmate of mine from the third grade until we graduated from high school. Her brother David, two years our junior, had lost his sight as a young boy and until high school had attended the Iowa Sight-Saving School (such an ironic name). He learned to wrestle there. When time to go to high school, David went to Davenport (IA) Central, went out for the wrestling team and essentially became a workout partner. One night he got a chance to wrestle in a JV meet. The only allowance made for his blindness was that both wrestlers had to always be touching. In the neutral position the wrestlers just had to touch each others' fingers. It would be heart-warming to say that David won - but he didn't. He fought hard and was tough to ride - but way too easy to take down. He asked for no quarter and competed as an equal.

Gable wins Olympic gold

I watched it on television - enough said.

Randy Lewis wrestles with one arm

Like virtually every long-time Hawkeye fan, I loved watching Randy Lewis. But - watching him wrestle in the NCAA tournament his senior year with that horribly injured elbow was one of the most courageous things I've ever seen.

Jeff McGinnis wins 4th

We're lucky in Iowa. The high school wrestling finals are broadcast live every year so I've seen every four-time Iowa state champion since Mark Schwab, either in person or on TV. I just happened to be in "The Barn" (Veterans Memorial Auditorium) the night Jeff McGinnis won his fourth. It was typical McGinnis - he totally dominated the guy. The ovation when he got his medal was unforgettable.

Travis Fiser beats Randy Couture

Oklahoma State came into Carver Hawkeye Arena rated number one in the country. It was a very close meet. When Travis Fiser upset the number-one rated Couture it sealed the win for Iowa. With 14,000+ people in the stands it was one of those moments in wrestling that only happen in Iowa City (and maybe rarely in Minneapolis or Stillwater).

1997 NCAA Division I tournament

Oklahoma State came into the 1997 tournament the prohibitive favorite. From day 1 the Hawkeyes got on an unstoppable roll. The memorable events in that tournament are numerous - Gillis throwing and pinning Maldonado, Jesse Whitmer, Lincoln Mac over Bono in OT. However my favorite moment is Sandy Stevens introducing Dan Gable's high school coach, Bob Siddens, to present Dan with his 15th - and last - NCAA championship trophy.

Nick Ackerman wins the NCAA Division III championship

Nick Ackerman had his legs amputated just below the knees when he was 18 months old due to meningitis. I went to Waterloo for the 2001 DIII tournament specifically to see him wrestle. In the early rounds I was amazed by how solid his cradle was. I wish I had kept track of how many back points he scored in that tournament. No one, however, gave him a chance in the finals. He was going up against Nick Slack of Augsburg who was the defending national champion and was riding a 60-match winning streak. Ackerman hit a roll early in the match for a 5-point move and from there it just went back anf forth. He held on to win 13-11. The place went nuts! His mom came down out of the stands - there wasn't a dry eye in the place. I've read that the ovation lasted two minutes. It seemed like twenty.

This truly is the greatest sport.

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