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The Iowa-Iowa state wrestling meet hadn't been in the books 10 minutes before yet another drama unfolded. Stoic Hawkeye coach Dan Gable, he of the Olympian intensity and until recently a chronic sourpuss, valiantly attempted to fight off a smile. He failed.
Gable's wrestlers had just nipped those from his alma mater 18-15 to end a two-match losing streak to the Cyclones and to recoup bragging rights in the Headlock—make that Hawkeye—State. As the emotionally spent crowd of 14,760 filed out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Gable faced the media. His gaze was stern, his brow furrowed. But the corners of his mouth strained rebelliously upward, ruining, for a moment, his hard-guy image. "I don't want to smile," he growled through his grin. "We've got more important things to look forward to." Such as winning a record (for any sport) 10th straight NCAA championship at Maryland, March 19-21.
This closing dual meet of the Hawkeyes' season, which was anybody's for the taking until the final 10 seconds, probably left Gable more relieved than jubilant. It preserved Iowa's perfection (40-0) in 4�-year-old Carver-Hawkeye, but more important, it provided a much needed up-note to what has been Gable's most difficult season in 11 years of coaching in Iowa City.
To keep his wrestlers' minds on their mission—Title X, as it were—Gable even resorted to having Roman numeral X's sewn onto their singlets. That was, some thought, psychological overkill. "I was shocked," said cocaptain Jim Heffernan. Retorted Gable, "Maybe they weren't as tough as I thought." Maybe not, but they certainly had been tough on their coach.
Bad attitudes, bad ink and bad luck have beset Iowa this season. Brad Penrith, the defending NCAA 126-pound champion who is now the Hawkeyes' starting 134-pounder, was sentenced on a drunk-driving charge late last summer. Then some wrestlers were involved in a well-publicized scuffle with the basketball team in December. Four starters, including three-time All-America Greg Randall, have gone down with injuries. Another member of the squad quit. Gable, who had never lost more than one dual meet in a season, had seen this bunch drop two—at Penn State and at Iowa State—before the holiday break was over.
"Every year I adjust to what I've got," said Gable, an Olympic and two-time NCAA champion. "This year I didn't see a lot of gung-ho wrestlers. I don't have guys who eat, sleep and drink the sport." Perhaps not. He does, however, have guys who eat and sleep the sport, and drink.
"Never have I had to outlaw downtown Iowa City," continued Gable. "But they couldn't stay out of the bars. And they were running out of gas. What was I going to do?"
So prohibition it was. And up went the red flag—red-flag days being Gable's warning that a particularly brutal practice is in store. Gable also added 6:30 a.m. workouts to supplement the ones held each afternoon. "I still would hope," he said with a straight face, "that I push my athletes harder than anybody. There is no such thing as overtraining."
"That's easy for him to say," commented senior Rico (the Baltimore Butcher) Chiapparelli, a 177-pounder who believes there is such a thing as overtraining. "He never had a bad day."
The Butcher's beef aside, the Hawkeyes' increased workload began to pay off the week before the Iowa State match when they beat then No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State and enjoyed what Gable called "the first mental high we've been on all season."