By Mike Finn, WIN Editor
(Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of WIN’s look back at the United States’ wrestling performances in past Olympic Games, dating back to 1896. Go to https://www.win-magazine.com/wins-united-states-olympics-history/ to read additional stories of American wrestlers in the Olympics.)
The similarities between Tom Brands and his former University of Iowa coach Dan Gable were eerie. Not only were they multiple-time NCAA champions, but they both won gold medals and only a point scored against Brands in the 1996 Atlanta Games prevented the 136-pounder from claiming the same perfection Gable earned while not allowing a point in the 1972 Games in Munich, West Germany.
Only one thing prevented 1996 from being a perfect year on the mat for the Brands family from Sheldon, Iowa. Twin brother Terry Brands — who joined his brother Tom in winning a World championship in 1993 and added another World title in 1995 — lost in the Olympic Trials to Kendall Cross at 125.5 pounds.
Cross, the former Oklahoma State star, then rode his momentum into Atlanta. Cross won the gold medeal when he scored on a big throw against Giuvi Sissaouri of Canada in the finals.
Cross’ performance may only have been topped by 220-pound Kurt Angle, a former collegiate from Clarion, who also won a gold medal for the United States when he defeated Abbas Jadidi of Iran in the finals.
The United States’ other medals went to Townsend Saunders who finished second at 149.5 pounds while heavyweight Bruce Baumgartner, who carried the American flag during the opening ceremony, settled for a bronze medal in his fourth and final Olympic tournament.
Saunders, the former Arizona State wrestler, reached the finals where he lost to 1993 World silver medalist Vadim Bogiev of Russia.
Baumgartner, the two-time Olympic champion (1984 and 1992), lost an early match before he battled back to the bronze-medal bout. There he beat Russia’s Andrei Shumilin in overtime and earned his 13th career world-level medal, an international record which still stands.
The Greco-Roman team also had one of its stronger Olympics and gave fans a sneak preview to Rulon Gardner’s gold-medal victory over Alexander Karelin in 2000. Heavyweight Matt Ghaffari went into overtime in 1996 with the undefeated legend of the Soviet Union, only to lose a heartbreaking 1-0 decision.
Karelin claimed his third Olympic gold, while naturalized citizen Ghaffari’s emotions and personality made him a national hero.
Meanwhile, Brandon Paulson, then a college student at Minnesota, won some early clutch matches and captured the silver at 114.5 pounds.
Teammate Dennis Hall, the 1995 World champion, faced 1994 World champion Yuri Melntichenko of Kazakhstan in the 125.5-pound finals, and lost on a controversial throw.