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Three golds in Rome take sting away from upset losses in Melbourne

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Updated: May 31, 2012

By Mike Finn

The Cold War was in full effect when the United States wrestling teams headed down under for the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia. It was the first time since 1912 the Americans failed to earn a gold medal.

           And the international politics of that era may have reared its ugly head for the first time when Dan Hodge, the United States’ greatest hope for gold, was defeated in a controversial match to Bulgaria’s Nikola Nikolov in the 174-pound title match.

After recording four falls to reach the finals, Hodge was leading 8-1 with just seconds remaining when the former Sooner was lifted by the Bulgarian. As the competitors fell to the mat, they separated but the matside officials ruled Hodge was pinned at the 12-minute mark.

According to the Encyclopedia of American Wrestling, a Soviet judge ruled a touch fall against Hodge as he rolled through on his back. To Hodge’s credit, he came back to pin Gueorgiu Skhirtladze of Russia for the silver medal.

The 1956 Olympics also marked the first time in 32 years that the Americans entered a team in Greco-Roman competition. Greco was considered the favorite form of wrestling by many European nations.

The Americans failed to earn a medal but James Holt at 160 and Dale Thomas at 192 finished fifth and James Peckham claimed seventh place. This also marked the third time in U.S. Olympic history that a wrestler competed in both styles as Jay Evans participated in freestyle (where he finished fifth) and Greco. The only other U.S. Olympians to accomplish this before 1956 were George Metropoulos and Nat Pendleton in 1920. (Chris Taylor would become the fourth duo participant in 1972.)

           As disappointing as 1956 was to the United States wrestling team, the 1960 Olympics in Rome was just the opposite as three Americans — Terry McCann at 125.5, Shelby Wilson at 147.5 and Doug Blubaugh at 161 — won gold medals.

McCann, a native of Chicago and three-time NCAA champion at Iowa, lost a fourth-round match to Tauno Jaskari of Finland, but still reached the finals where he decisioned Nejdat Zalev of Bulgaria and Tadeusz Trojanowski of Poland in the round-robin format.

Wilson, meanwhile, was the Jared Frayer of his era. For just like the current 145.5-pound representative for the United States, Wilson (who attended Oklahoma State) did not win an NCAA championship. But once Wilson moved on to the Olympics, the native of Ponca City, Okla., won all five matches by decision in Rome.

 

The four-eyed Shelby Wilson,Terry McCann and Doug Blubaugh earned gold medals in freestyle at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Finally, Blubaugh came through with America’s biggest win as he pinned 1956 gold medalist Emamali Habibi of Iran en route to a perfect 7-0 mark, which also earned the native of Ponca City, Okla. the Outstanding Wrestling award for the meet. On an interesting note, Blubaugh, who later became head coach at Indiana University, helped Habibi emigrate to the U.S. after going through political turmoil in Iran.

These would be the only medals earned by the United States in 1960. But it should be noted that Elliott Simons (114.5) and Daniel Brand (192) finished fifth, Ed DeWitt (174) finished fourth, and Bill Kerslake (HWT) was eighth.

In Greco-Roman results, the U.S.’s best performances came from Lee Allen (134.5) and Russell Camilleri (174) who claimed eighth.

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