A medal of any color?
"Ah, now that is quite possible."
In truth, it's an iffy proposition. Jim Peckham, athletic director at Emerson College and a veteran international coach, says, "Erland is so loaded with talent that he doesn't understand himself. He could make an Olympic team, but it would mean dropping everything else." Wil Chassey, Erland's wrestling coach at MIT, says, "He knows what he has to do. Now we'll just see if he wants to. He's good enough." One of Erland's rivals, 250-pound Greg Wojciechowski, says, "You can't count out anybody that big. Frankly, I go out in fear any time I wrestle against a guy over 300 pounds." And Dziedzic says of the canary's chances, "Sure, he's definitely a contender."
Others are not so kind. John Bowlsby, formerly of the University of Iowa and a premier performer in the unlimited class, sniffs, "He's not a very good wrestler, and he's always in such lousy physical condition. I'd say his chances of making the Olympic team are slim and none, and slim just left town."
There will be two unlimited spots on the U.S. team. One will be on the Greco-Roman squad—Erland's best chance—where Pete Lee and Wojciechowski clearly are the insiders. The other spot is on the freestyle team, which former Oklahoma State star Jimmy Jackson seemingly has wrapped up, although Bowlsby also has a chance. Lee and Jackson were on the 1976 Olympic team.
Erland's best moves are a double-arm salto and a headlock. When he loses, it is often because of stalling, a common occurrence among the heavies. As his mother says, "All it is two big bulls pushing each other around. Very seldom anything happens." Dziedzic cannot ascribe a unique style to van Lidth de Jeude. "He's certainly big enough," he says. "He just hasn't been able to motivate himself physically." Former U.S. Coast Guard Academy wrestler Jim Murray, who beat Erland in eight of nine encounters, says, "He might be too big."
Whatever. The fact is, Erland, who lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, has never won a national championship. The most important title he has ever held was the 1977 New England championships, in his senior year at MIT, when his record was 21-1. "A strange thing always happens to me in national competitions," Erland says. "I lose." However, he has sung the national anthem before many of his toughest meets, and after one such performance got a thunderous response. "It wasn't just because they thought the song had merit," says Erland. "Really, it is much more fun to sing. It doesn't hurt." Snipes one critic, "Imagine if he could wrestle as well as he sings."
Erland's proudest wrestling moment came almost three years ago when he finished third in the Aryamehr Cup competition in Teheran, beating the Iranian national champ. "They loved me," says Erland. "Everywhere I went I caused a riot. Iran is sort of backward."
Why does van Lidth de Jeude persist in the face of his mediocrity?
"I've become hard core about wrestling," he says. "Besides, I kind of like being in the spotlight. But I wouldn't want to do anything if I didn't think I could be the best. And it wouldn't even be worth doing if it wasn't a challenge." He says he presses on because it recently occurred to him that "the top guys in the country weren't that much better than me, and I was improving." The possibility that the others may also be improving does not occur to Erland. The crux of the matter, of course, is that his size—he's still growing in one direction or another—automatically makes him a contender.