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Not At All Pretty, But Almost Perfect
Bob Ottum
August 20, 1984
With many of the world's finest wrestlers absent, the rough and tough U.S. had the right stuff
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August 20, 1984

Not At All Pretty, But Almost Perfect

With many of the world's finest wrestlers absent, the rough and tough U.S. had the right stuff

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On an otherwise pleasant Thursday afternoon near Disneyland, 163-pound U.S. wrestler Dave Schultz leaped upon Saban Sejdi of Yugoslavia, threw him to the mat and pinned him in 1:46 of the first period. Schultz rose to report with satisfaction, "He's hurt pretty bad. I took his left knee out. In fact, I heard it go." About 15 minutes later Dave's brother Mark, a bit bigger and no less mean at 180.5 pounds, pinned a Turk named Resit Karabachak in 30 seconds—breaking Karabachak's left elbow with one mighty wrench. Mark neither apologized nor saluted his foe. Instead, he exulted in the victory, dancing around the mat like a cheerful brontosaurus.

But if some American wrestlers acted a bit prehistorically, all of them, even the practitioners of that odd pastime called Greco-Roman, performed historically. In the 20 wrestling classes, the U.S. got 13 medals, including nine golds. This haul was greatly facilitated by the absence of two world powers, the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, which figured to win 25 or so medals between them had they not boycotted the L.A. Games.

Still, the Americans helped themselves, too. In the first week of the Olympics they got four Greco-Roman medals, among them golds won by Steve Fraser, 31, and Jeff Blatnick, 27, in the 90-and 100-plus-kilo classes, respectively. That was a stunning development, because the U.S. had never won a Greco-Roman medal, but it was a mere prelude to America's overwhelming success in the second week's freestyle competition.

Consider Mark Schultz, the elbow-breaker. He's a 24-year-old from Palo Alto, Calif., a three-time NCAA champion, among other distinctions, who wasn't favored in his division. In the bizarre scene after his match with Karabachak, who had been the favorite, the Turkish delegation stamped around the mat yelling, "Brutality! Brutality!" They cited Schultz for an illegal hold—called a double wristlock in professional wrassling—and demanded that his victory be disallowed. And indeed it was, despite the fact that the protest wasn't made until after the half-hour deadline.

It later turned out that what the Turks really wanted was the merest sort of sporting gesture: "Someone from the U.S. should have apologized," said assistant coach Muharren Atik. "If someone had just spoken [to Karabachak], we would've been all right."

U.S. coach Dan Gable said simply, "Brutality? Brutality means picking up a guy and slamming him down on his head." Then he shrugged. "Sorry that guy got hurt. But this is a man's game." Schultz had already left the arena when the reversal was announced. Earlier he had muttered to Gable, "They're trying to turn this into a sissy sport."

And, as Gable pointed out, this isn't a sport for the faint of heart. Take Schultz's disputed hold. The maneuver involves a standard arm hold, said Gable, "and it starts out perfectly legal. If the opponent's arm is bent just to 90 degrees, it's O.K., but go to 91 degrees and suddenly it becomes an armlock. Because of the leverage, once you go past 90 degrees, something's got to break. We learned the hold from the Cubans. And the Cubans learned it from the Russians."

Atik wasn't mollified. "This hold is forbidden," he said. "Most wrestlers don't use it because it breaks arms and shoulders."

The Turks' request that Schultz be banned from the Games was denied, but Schultz was set back one bout and FILA (Federation Internationale de Lutte Amateur) assigned an extra judge, Mario Saletnig of Canada, just to watch the Americans. At times the officials used binoculars. Considering their proximity to the ring, it was like putting the U.S. wrestlers under a microscope.

The next day they saw Schultz come storming back to win two bouts, and by the finals he was again in gold medal contention. He was joined there by virtually all the other U.S. wrestlers. In the first of the gold medal matches, held last Thursday night in three of the 10 weight classes, up jumped floppy-haired, 5'2", 105.5-pound Bobby Weaver. He came charging out of the dressing room, fired up beyond belief, at which point Gable grabbed him by one arm and slapped him resoundingly across the face to make him even madder. Two minutes and 58 seconds later, after a scramble that was anything but graceful, Weaver had pinned Takashi Irie of Japan for the gold medal. He then did a victory backflip and took off around the arena, pausing briefly to pick up his 8-month-old son, Bobby Jr. Afterward he said cheerily, "Yeah, I remember that left hook that Gable gave me before the fight. Gable is just a super guy."

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