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Beyond that, Erland appears to be taking this Olympic business seriously. He recently quit his $25,000-a-year job as a systems programmer with New York's Citibank; the bank refused to keep him on the payroll while he took time off for training, a legal way to subsidize prospective Olympic athletes. And he is starting to work out. The team for a pre-Olympic trip to Russia will be picked next month; Erland hopes to make it. Still, getting ready isn't his idea of a good time.
"The problem with training is that you can't do what's fun," he grouses. "Wrestling I enjoy. Training to wrestle I do not enjoy."
At the 1976 Olympic training camp, at which Erland was an alternate, Peckham became enraged. He identified van Lidth de Jeude as "a dumb slob, an irritating and arrogant S.O.B." And moments after that explosion, he turned to Erland and said, softly, "You know I'm right." Except Erland isn't dumb. If it were simply a case of mind over matter, he would always win; because it's not, he sometimes loses.
Erland was born in Holland where, long ago, the van Lidth de Jeudes had been allowed to claim the title of baron; all the branches of the family did, save Erland's. "Our side said, 'We are high-class enough without any title,' " says Erland. Apparently uppityness had been a family trait long before Erland came along. Later, though, a forebear figured a title would smooth his way around diplomatic circles and claimed the rank of Jonkheer, which is just below baron. And means? "Nothing," says Jonkheer Erland van Lidth de Jeude.
The van Lidth de Jeudes left Holland in 1958, when Erland was 3� years old; they feared the Soviets might overwhelm Western Europe. His mother had spent four years in a prison camp when the Japanese overran the Dutch East Indies in World War II and was anxious to find a safe harbor. The U.S. was it, and eventually they found themselves in the lush, rolling countryside of Ridgefield, 54 miles northeast of New York City. "We were considered odd growing up," says Erland. "We had respect for our parents, and we liked school."
And always, of course, there was music. Great music. Erland was a soloist at several churches. One, in Melrose, Mass., fired him, however, when he fell asleep during the service.
Each day, his mother would send him off to school with the admonition, "Be smart." "So I was," says Erland. "I was brought up to be an overachiever." Sports were of interest "only because they were something to round you out." He played football but hated it. He never wrestled in high school. When it came time for college, he turned down an acceptance from Harvard to go to MIT. "A bachelor's from MIT is worth a master's from anywhere else," he says. His undergraduate degree is in computer science and electrical engineering.
Chassey recalls the day he looked off in the distance across the MIT campus and saw a mountain he had not seen before. "Then," he says, "it disappeared." He immediately gathered his team members and said, "Find him." They did, and Erland's wrestling career was thus launched—inauspiciously. As a freshman, his record was 9-9. Worse, he had no uniform. The largest football jersey that the New England Patriots had (a red one) was acquired; he wore basketball sneakers (one a size 16, the other a 15) instead of wrestling shoes. "I looked like a clown," says Erland. "I had to start winning so people wouldn't laugh." Ultimately, Chassey took home two size 44 MIT jerseys and had his wife sew them together to presumably make an 88. (Actually, Erland was only a 56).
During his last two years at MIT, Erland had a 40-6 record. One maneuver Chassey admits he was never able to teach him was to push himself back from the table. Is all the weight healthful? "Probably not," says Erland, "but it's effective." By Olympic time he intends to be at 350. "I'm overweight but not grossly overweight," he says. "There's a lot of bone in me. I'm a big fellow." Once criticized by Chassey for being in poor condition, Erland protested that his heartbeat was only 52. Normal people are around 72 and in-shape wrestlers are around 50. "I checked," says Chassey, "and it was. That says to me his condition is not as bad as it seems."
Erland's enthusiasm for wrestling grew when he found his schoolwork a snap. He went through a semester of calculus and analytic geometry in 18 days; over one summer, he read a three-volume work on physics, then spent the school term correcting his physics professor. Genius I.Q. starts at 140; Erland says his is 160. "But," he adds, "anything around 180 is unstable, so I'm well within the stable range." He doesn't think there's anything special about his brain power because "a lot of people are geniuses, at least 1% of the population."