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Mama's bar in downtown Iowa City may never be the same. It is there that University of Iowa wrestlers have gone with their problems, have dreamed their dreams and have vowed that victory would some day be theirs. Someday arrived last week at Princeton, where the Hawkeyes won their first NCAA mat title. In so doing they put more than a mere dent in the supremacy of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Iowa State, a triumvirate that had seemingly clamped a permanent headlock on the NCAA championship, winning 40 times in 44 previous tournaments.
Fans from more than 40 states were on hand for the three-day tournament, which began on Wednesday at an almost nonstop pace, with 291 bouts to be contested. For Saturday night's finals 9,200 people—a Jadwin Gym record—were sardined in and a sellout crowd of 600 watched the matches on closed-circuit TV in the basement to swell the total attendance to 46,200, a tournament record.
"There's nothing sacred anymore in this sport," said Oklahoma coach, Stan Abel. "These kids have no respect for seniority or placement. There are so many good kids that nobody's safe."
Almost 550 colleges now have teams, and many of their wrestlers are highly skilled even as freshmen. Said Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo Coach Vaughan Hitchcock, "High school coaches used to say, 'Don't teach those moves to my kids. It's too advanced for them.' But techniques and rules have improved, and you see kids using more spectacular moves now. Lots of them go to summer clinics. I had 1,400 boys at mine last summer."
"It all helps," Hawkeye Coach Gary Kurdelmeier said. "It's like overfilling a glass of water. Gradually the water soaks into the tablecloth. It's the same with the boys; what they learn now sinks in and becomes part of their style."
Most of the assistants belong to the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, which is largely funded by millionaire industrialist Roy Carver. Club members include 1972 Olympian Jay Robinson and former NCAA champion Vic Marcucci, and they work out daily with the Iowa team.
"It gives you a chance to practice against a variety of styles," said 230-pound heavyweight John Bowlsby. "Gable likes to wrestle rough, and when I work out with him he tears me apart."
A Munich gold medalist, Gable is in his third year at Iowa, and his hiring coincides with the team's rise. Comparing his years as an NCAA finalist with those as an assistant coach, he said, "All I'm trying to do here is keep the guys on a fine edge. You've got to get to know each one. I've asked them all, 'Do you want me to push you before a match or leave you alone?' When I wrestled I felt the best thing I could do for the team was if I came through on the mat. Now I have to get involved with all these guys."