Gable and Petersons led Americans to 12 medals in the 1970s

Updated: June 13, 2012

1972 Olympics: Gable’s legend grew in Munich

By Mike Finn, WIN Editor

There was a different look to Dan Gable during his five days of wrestling in Munich, West Germany, for the 1972 Olympics than what he displayed two years earlier in the 1970 NCAA Championships.

Dan Gable did not allow a point in winning the 1972 gold medal at 136.5 pounds.

One could see it. Gable could feel it.

For unlike the “Golden Boy” look Gable first wore while winning a combined 118 straight matches at Iowa State University, Gable had more of a “warrior” look during the Olympics when he was forced to wear tape around his head.

“It may have been one way to show I was ready,” said Gable. He eventually won six matches during the 1972 Olympics without surrendering a point and earned the gold medal at 149.5 pounds.

This moment also proved the native of Waterloo, Iowa, had become a man … and who grew up quite a bit after seeing his heralded collegiate career come to a painful end. The University of Washington’s Larry Owings, then a sophomore, handed Gable his only defeat in college in the NCAA finals in 1970.

“The year after I lost to Owings I started to become a man,” said Gable. “That’s where I became more physical. I became incensed.

“There was a difference in the way I felt. I had never experienced something that traumatic in athletics. I would have to go back to when my sister was killed my sophomore year (of high school).”

But unlike that painful time when the murder of his only sibling, Diane (killed in their Waterloo home while Dan and his parents, Mack and Katie, were away on a fishing trip), the loss to Owings also nearly ended any Olympic medal dreams he may have possessed.

“There was a three- or four-week period after the loss where I was wavering on whether or not to keep wrestling,” he said. “That’s how hard it hit me. It was traumatic.”

But after a strong pep talk from his late mother who in some harsh words told Dan not to feel sorry for himself, Gable ended three weeks of floundering and put all his energies into wrestling. He eventually regained a mental edge that carried him to a world championship in 1971, an avenging victory over Owings in the 1972 Olympic Trials and a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in Munich where he continued to use the loss to Owings as motivation toward a gold medal.

“I absolutely needed the loss (to Owings) but I hate to admit it,” said Gable, who also admitted recently he is still recovering from the loss to Owings. “I would like to think that I did not need that loss but I analyzed how good I was at the Owings match.

“I look at how good I was in 10th grade, how good I was in 11th, 12th and through college. The improvement over seven years was steady. But within one year of the Owings loss, I improved seven years. That loss triggered me to extremes I wouldn’t have done.”

Gable wasn’t about to let a bloody gash to his head from a head butt by Yugoslavian opponent Sefer Saliovski in a first-round match stop him from reaching his goal.

“Because of the blood. I could have been disqualified,” said Gable who believed that referees from Communist nations would have used that against him. Gable was well aware of the Soviet Union’s pre-Olympic pledge of finding someone to beat Gable.

“That was one of their plans on beating me. That’s why (American officials) wrapped me up so quick to soak the blood up. One referee actually disqualified me. Bill Farrell realized that and kept officials away from me long enough to soak up the blood.”

Gable said his only loss of focus came in his final match against Ruslan Ashuraliev of the Soviet Union, when he realized the gold medal was his as long as he did not lose by more than eight points.

“They had a different system then,” he said. “Because of my domination in earlier matches, I could lose and still win the gold. To enter a match where you can lose by that many points is not healthy.”

So instead of attacking Ashuraliev, Gable said he “let up because I knew the guy wasn’t going to beat me by seven. I was beating him 2-0 and he wasn’t scoring any points on me. The only way he could beat me was to pin me and it’s easier to pin someone than beat by eight.

“I just did enough to stay active until I got a takedown.”

Gable’s 3-0 win over the Russian also happened before the terrorists killed the Israeli athletes in Munich. But Gable believes the tragedy would not have taken his mind off of winning the gold medal. He regained the drive that started in his hometown and separated him from other people.

“Why could I go to high school and go to class and have ankle weights on my legs in biology class and doing (leg lifts),” he said. “Why could I walk in college to class with a weight vest on and run to class with my street clothes on, sweating all over. I didn’t even know people were looking at me. That’s how focused I could be.”

Gable said it wasn’t until a later documentary on his career that he saw how people reacted to his lifestyle.

“It never crossed my mind that they were looking at me,” he said. “I was a man on a mission.”


Taylor competed in both freestyle and Greco in 1972

Chris Taylor was a mountain of a man as the American heavyweight checked in at over 430 pounds in 1972; a time when the heaviest weight was unlimited.

But that meant little to West Germany’s Wilfried Dietrich who became king of the hill at least during his Greco-Roman match with Taylor when the 1960 freestyle gold medalist bear-hugged the larger-than-life American and used a suplex to pin Taylor in 3:14.

This match, which avenged a victory by Taylor over the German in freestyle, unfortunately became typical for the American Greco-Roman team which won just two of 20 matches — by future NCAA coaches J Robinson of Minnesota and Wayne Baughman of Air Force — and suffered falls in ten of those losses. (Among those American Greco wrestlers were Dave and James Hazewinkel, the father and uncle of current Oklahoma wrestler Sam Hazewinkel).

Oddly, failure of the U.S. Greco team came shortly after the freestyle squad posted America’s best results in 12 years as Wayne Wells (163 pounds) and Ben Peterson (198) joined teammate Dan Gable (149.5) on the gold-medal stand in Munich.

Wells, a native of Norman, Okla., and law school graduate who addressed the joint session of the U.S. Congress before heading to Munich, tallied four pins and also came away with a decision against silver medalist Jan Karlson of Sweden.

Peterson, a teammate of Gable at Iowa State, meanwhile scored a trio of pins in his five victories, which helped break the tie for the gold medal with the Soviet’s Gennadi Strakhov after the two men tied.

The United States freestyle team also earned silver medals from free-spirited Rick Sanders and John Peterson. Sanders (125.5) pinned five opponents, only losing to Japan’s Hideaki Yanagida. Brother of gold medalist Ben Peterson, John (180.5) attended Stout State in their homestate of Wisconsin. His only loss was to the Soviet’s Levan Tediashvilli.

Taylor, meanwhile, had a much easier time in freestyle as he earned the bronze medal. This came after the native of Dowagiac, Mich., lost a controversial match to the USSR’s Alexander Medved, who benefitted from a stalling call against Taylor.

Later, the referee was sent home from the Games because of the way he scored the match.

1976 Olympics: Petersons switched places on medal stand in Montreal

By Mike Finn, WIN Editor

John and Ben Peterson had plenty in common when it came to wrestling for the United States. For the brothers from Comstock, Wisc., each made at least two Olympic Teams in both 1972 and 1976 and each won gold and silver medals during those Olympic Games.

But oddly, each of their gold-medal efforts came in different locations as Ben won the championship at 198 pounds in 1972, while older brother John settled for silver in Munich, West Germany, at 180.5 pounds.

But four years later in Montreal, the Petersons traded places on the medal stand … thanks in large part to the Soviet Union’s Levan Tediashvilli, who defeated John for the gold medal in Munich at 180.5 pounds, then moved up a weight in Montreal, where he also defeated Ben for the 198-pound championship.

Sadly for Ben, this would be his last shot at a second Olympic gold medal even after he made the 1980 team. Unfortunately, he and his fellow Olympians were unable to participate in Moscow because of the United States boycott.

At least John, who also earned bronze and silver medals at the 1978 and 1979 World Championships, got a chance to enjoy his final Olympic competition in Montreal, where he won all eight matches, including a pair of wins over silver medalist Mansour Barzegar of Iran and another over 1972 bronze medalist Adolf Seger of West Germany.

Overall, the U.S. freestyle team sent six wrestlers to the finals but only John claimed gold. In addition to Ben Peterson, other silver medals came from Lloyd Keaser at 149.5 pounds and Russ Hellickson at 220. Meanwhile, both Gene Davis at 136.5 pounds and Stan Dziedzic at 163 picked up bronze medals in Montreal.

Keaser, a native of Baltimore and then a lieutenant in the Marines blasted through the preliminaries and forced three opponents to disqualify before he lost to gold medalist Pavel Pinigin of the Soviet Union.

Hellickson, a native of Oregon, Wisc., recorded five victories, including a decision against 1972 silver medalist Khorloo Baramunkh of Mongolia, before losing to defending Olympic gold medalist Ivan Yarygin of the Soviet Union.

Davis, who also wrestled in Munich, actually beat the silver medalist Zeveg Oidov of Mongolia but had to settle for third place when the native of Lakewood, Calif., was pinned by eventual gold medalist Jung-Mo Yang of Korea.

Dziedzic, a native of Lansing, Mich., won all of his preliminary matches, including triumphs over Sweden’s Jan Karlsson and the Soviet Union’s Ruslan Ashuraliev, who finished second and third, respectively, in 1972. Unfortunately, Dziedzic lost both of his finals matches and settled for third place.

In the Greco-Roman competition, no American earned a medal but Brad Rheingans finished fourth at 220 pounds and heavyweight Pete Lee grabbed fifth place; the highest place finishers by two Americans at that point.

Rheingans, a native of Appleton, Wisc., defeated bronze medalist Andrzej Skrzylewski of Poland but was pinned by the USSR’s gold medalist Nikolai Bolboshin, which kept Rheingans from earning a medal.

Lee, meanwhile, was in position to medal after he pinned eventual silver medalist Alexander Tomov of Bulgaria but was pinned in two straight matches.