The chill of the Ukrainian autumn had spread through the Kiev Palace of Sports last Thursday night, sending fans at the World Wrestling Championships off to vending kiosks to fuel up on snacks and sandwiches and broad-mouthed bottles of curd-clotted milk. "For wrestlers, this is cold," said Nancy Schultz, shifting nervously in her seat near matside. Her husband, Dave, planned to generate some heat in the 163-pound freestyle final, but even he didn't feel comfortable in the setting. He couldn't so much as read the scoreboard—an undecipherable mass of Cyrillic letters—and a sellout crowd of 6,700 Soviets eagerly cheered on his opponent, Muscovite Taram Magomadov. Schultz also was under unexpected pressure. After four days of mostly disappointing performances by the U.S. team—a squad up to its headgear in unforeseen problems—he was America's last remaining hope for a gold medal.
Before their match was called up, Schultz and Magomadov stood at mid-mat staring each other down; soon they were going at it. This was predictable. Schultz, a two-time NCAA champ from Oklahoma, is an easygoing, wonderfully comic, born-again Christian who turns absolutely feral in competition. "Dave has been wrestling in his sleep," his wife said. "He woke up at four in the morning before the semifinals and just sort of roamed around." Last year, when Schultz couldn't make the U.S. world championship team at 163 pounds, he moved up to take the 181.5-pound slot, went to the championships in Edmonton and, despite giving away nearly 20 pounds to every opponent, still won a bronze medal. In Kiev, Schultz was fiercer than ever. In a 3-1 victory over 1981 World Champion Martin Knosp of West Germany, he applied such a viselike front headlock that Knosp finally passed out. When Nancy tried to sneak up on her husband from behind to give him a surprise good-luck kiss while he loosened up for a subsequent bout, she accidentally got smacked in the throat; Dave was too busy swinging his arms to notice her.
"Don't kiss me. I've got a big match," he said sternly.
At the start of Thursday's final, alas, Magomadov found that Schultz can sometimes be a pushover; he bulldozed Schultz onto his back for a 3-0 lead, then took him down again to make the score 4-0. "I was kind of worried at that point," said U.S. Head Coach Dan Gable, who'd already seen America's two other finalists, 136.5-pound Leroy Smith and 220-pound Marine Sgt. Greg Gibson, soundly beaten into second place. But now Schultz fought back with a takedown and then repeated use of a gut-wrench maneuver, in which he squeezed Magomadov around the waist from behind and turned him to his back three times. After the first of two three-minute periods, Schultz led 7-4.
October 9, 1983
Clearly, Schultz had learned from the mistakes of Smith and Gibson. Smith, formerly of, as Kiev spectators put it, "Oklahomski" State, had been rather inattentive to detail throughout the U.S. team's trip. He'd lost, in order: his plane ticket in Los Angeles, his wallet in Paris and his passport in Hungary. For his gold-medal match against Viktor Alekseyev of the Soviet Union, Smith showed up wearing a singlet of the wrong color, blue instead of red. He was sent back to change. His concentration ruined, Smith fell hopelessly behind Alekseyev in the opening minutes and never recovered, losing 11-4.
Gibson, a 29-year-old two-time freestyle world championship medalist, seemed frozen by the chill of the arena in his 6-2 loss to the Soviets' Asian Khadartsev. Gibson is built like a marble statue, and he moved like one against Khadartsev. To be fair, he wrestled on a strained left knee and on Thursday he felt he was coming down with the flu.
But Schultz was hale and hearty, as Magomadov discovered in the final period when Schultz scored twice on head-lock rolls to win 11-6. Thus he not only became the ninth American wrestler in history to win a world championship but also continued recent U.S. domination of the 163-pound class. Schultz's good friend Lee Kemp, who skipped the Kiev meet to concentrate on his MBA studies at Wisconsin, won 163-pound titles in 1978, 1979 and last year. "Lee just wasn't psyched this year," said Schultz. "Boy, am I glad."
No one was as glad about the results in Kiev as the host nation. Soviet freestyle wrestlers won seven gold medals, two silver and one bronze—that's one in every weight class—with the world's finest wrestler, Sergei Beloglazov, winning the 125.5-pound class, and Salman Khasimikov the heavyweight. Bulgaria placed second, and the U.S. third on the strength of Schultz's gold, the silvers of Smith and Gibson and a bronze for heavyweight Bruce Baumgartner. The medal haul was a qualitative, if not quantitative, improvement for the U.S.: At last year's world championships, Americans also won four medals, but three of them were bronze.
What clouded the Kiev meet, and caused all manner of problems for the U.S. team, was the aftershock from the Soviets' Sept. 1 attack on Korean Air Lines Flight 007. South Korea withdrew its team from the championships in protest, and some Americans suggested that the U.S. follow suit. But while France, Britain and Italy failed to send their teams because of travel restrictions brought on by the incident, and the Ayatullah Khomeini inexplicably pulled Iran's team out of the freestyle portion of the meet (though not, curiously, the Greco-Roman or Sombo competitions), the Americans were eager to compete and the Reagan Administration did not try to stop them.
By the time the U.S. team left for Kiev, however, its mental preparation had been set back by worries about a boycott. Worse, the team was without its two gold-medal favorites, Kemp and Chris Campbell, the 1981 world champion at 181.5 pounds, who has back problems. And because of the curtailed airline service into the Soviet Union, the U.S. wrestlers had to leave nine days earlier than planned, flying from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Denver to L.A. to Paris, where they stayed overnight. Then they caught a flight to Budapest, only to discover that they needed, but did not have, Hungarian visas. They soon acquired both the visas and a bus that carried them first to a three-day workout camp with the Hungarian team in the Bakony Mountains and then to a four-day camp with the Japanese team in Budapest. From there, the Americans took a 25-hour train ride that brought them to Kiev on Sept. 24. "It's not the best way to travel," said Gable.
Whether from fatigue, sloppy technique or inexperience (international rules are drastically different from those governing U.S. collegiate wrestling), the Americans wrestled so poorly in early matches that six of the 10-member team, including Schultz's brother Mark, a 181.5-pounder, were soon eliminated. Gable, who won a gold medal in the 1972 Games and will coach the U.S. Olympic freestyle team next year, wished he'd had more than just a couple of weeks to train his world championship squad. "There was really only one practice where I felt comfortable and worked as hard as I like," he said. "The next day the comments I got were like, 'Were you mad at us, Coach? Why'd you make us do that?' " Rest assured that before next year's Games, Gable will put U.S. wrestlers through many more of his rigid drills, the kind he has used in coaching Iowa to six straight NCAA titles. "I'm going for 10 gold medals in L. A.," he says.
After Thursday night, Schultz can imagine the joy of winning one himself. He was mobbed by Soviet fans seeking autographs and by local reporters struggling with English translations and biographical data and the concept of Boomer Sooner ("Oklahoma Institute of Physical Culture?" "No, University"). Schultz carried his winnings with him: a huge gold medal, a small gold medal, a certificate, a heavy lead-crystal vase, one pink rose and a massive championship belt. A friend on the Soviet team brought him champagne and caviar. "I should move here now," said Schultz. For once, Soviets and Americans were mingling, and there was warmth.