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
August 19, 1984

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."

Next came two more bouts and two more golds: 1983 Pan Am Games 136.5-pound champion Randy Lewis, his right leg swathed like a movie mummy, beat another Japanese, Kosei Akaishi, 24-11 in 4:52, rallying after a sloppy start in which Akaishi had picked up Lewis and carried him around, looking for a suitable place to throw him. In the 198-pound class, Ed Banach stormed into Akia Ohta, also of Japan, at one juncture twisting Ohta's left wrist to such an extent that the bout was stopped so that medics could tape the wrist back into position. Banach went on to win a 15-3 technical-superiority decision.

But it was Lewis who provided the evening's most stirring moment when, with his mashed nose and cauliflowered ears still reddened, he cried tenderly through the national anthem. It was at this point that the crowds at the Anaheim Convention Center finally seemed to sense the lack of suspense in the matches.

When Friday night's mayhem was over, the U.S. had won two more gold medals, bringing its victory total to five in the first six weight classes. Dave Schultz whomped West Germany's Martin Knosp 4-1, and in the 100-plus-kilo class, Bruce Baumgartner, who weighs 267 pounds, beat Bob Molle of Canada 10-2. When Gable was asked that night if maybe he felt like Bobby Knight, he raised his battered eyebrows and growled, "Oh, did he win big, too?"

But imagine Gable's surprise when—horrors!—Saturday night's session opened with two Americans getting only silver medals. Barry Davis, at 125.5 pounds, was handily beaten by Japan's Hideaki Tomiyama, and in the week's messiest bout, Andrew Rein, a 149.5-pounder, tied You In Tak of Korea 5-5, only to lose the decision on criteria. But what the crowd was really waiting for was the return of Mark Schultz.

He didn't disappoint them: Waiting in center ring was Hideyuke Nagashima of Japan. Poor chap. Schultz whapped him across the forehead to get his attention and then pounced on him. Suddenly it was 5-0 for Schultz, and then, with only 1:59 having elapsed in the first period, it was over, 13-0, on technical points.

Mark came up grinning. "Was there an extra official just watching the Schultzes?" he said. He feigned innocence. "I didn't know that. Of course, it didn't help, my brother busting up that guy's leg like that." And then Mark recalled the angry episode with Karabachak and his compatriots. "Well, I thought about apologizing to him, I really did," Mark said. "But I knew if I did, he'd just say, 'Aw, go to hell. You broke my arm.' "

As a grand finale, the 100-kilo Banach brother, Lou, swarmed all over Joseph Atiyeh, who's from Syria—well, sort of, he wrestles for LSU—and won a medal with the only pin of the night. Thus ended the U.S. romp.

There was another happy result to report: Sejdi of the wrenched leg, David Schultz's fourth-round victim, recovered enough to get a bronze medal Saturday. How about that, Dave?

"I was really bothered by this 'brutality' stuff against us," he said. "You know, in a fair match, the better you are, the closer you come to being brutal. That's wrestling." Then he shrugged and took a different slant. "The fans are so enthusiastic about us," he said. "I mean, we're just walking around, our eyes all cut and scraped, and perfect strangers will recognize us. They cheer us. They'll "drive by in their cars and they'll roll down the windows, and you know what they yell at us? They yell, 'Kill 'em!' "

TWO PHOTOSMark Schultz (in blue and inset) didn't bust anyone's elbow in the final, but he broke Nagashima's hopes with a 13-0 win. ILLUSTRATION PHOTOGable got a lift from Ed Banach's technical-superiority victory in the 198-pound class. PHOTOIn one of the best Olympic finals, Dave Schultz (in red) decisioned Knosp 4-1. TWO PHOTOSAmong the big boys, Baumgartner (red, above) at 267 was too weighty a matter for Molle, and Lou Banach (blue) pinned semi-Syrian Atiyeh.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)