Jim Martin and Ken Chertow have met only twice in competition. Neither is looking forward to a third confrontation. Not that either wrestler shies away from a tough bout. But for each, it's a little uncomfortable facing another captain of the Penn State team.
In their first match outside the wrestling room, in 1986, Chertow defeated Martin 5-1 to win the 125.5-pound class at the Espoir Freestyle Nationals in Las Vegas. In the second, the 126-pound finals of the '87 Midlands collegiate tournament in Chicago, Martin won 1-0. Both times, says Chertow, "it was pretty awkward. We even had to room together at those tournaments."
The two have not been forced into more such meetings because they usually wrestle in different weight classes. In Chertow's case, that isn't entirely by choice. In 1987, when he was a sophomore, Martin finished second in the NCAA championships at 118 pounds. But the 5'6" Martin went up a class last season and the teammates staged a series of wrestle-offs. It was close, but Martin got the better of it. That result, plus the fact that Chertow is only 5'3" and therefore better suited to making the lower weight, meant that he would drop down and wrestle at 118. The arrangement worked out fine; Chertow went 17-1 as a 118-pounder, and Martin won the 126-pound national title.
Martin, who was undefeated going into the final week of the 1989 season, is again ranked No. 1 at 126 and expects to defend his title next week at the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City. In the meantime, Chertow continues to wrestle at 118. "The fact is, Kenny doesn't have the choice," says Rich Lorenzo, coach of the Nittany Lions. "He can't beat Jimmy at collegiate wrestling, and he can't go up a class to 134."
March 20, 1989
But things aren't as lackluster for Chertow as that statement might make them seem. His first love is international freestyle wrestling, in which the emphasis is on aggressiveness and scoring (collegiate wrestling stresses controlling one's rival and more liberally rewards the wrestler who prevents his opponent from maintaining or gaining a hold). "I like freestyle more," Chertow says. "It encourages my kind of wrestling. It rewards you for trying things."
Chertow is an outstanding international freestyle prospect. In 1985, he won the 125.5-pound title at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. He was also the 1986 Pan Am Games champion, and a year later he won the 125.5 crown for wrestlers 20-and-under at the U.S. Olympic Festival. Last year Chertow was the only U.S. freestyler in the Seoul Olympics who was a full-time college student.
In fact, Chertow is a stellar scholar, with an average of 3.65 in a premed curriculum. But, again, Martin has him covered. He, too, is a premed student, and his average at the end of the first semester of his senior year was a dazzling 3.96. Says Lorenzo of his two leadoff wrestlers, "They're almost too good to be true."
He's right. Martin has the uncommon ability to control opponents from all positions. He's equally adept at taking down a rival from a standing position, pinning him from a superior position, and escaping and scoring a reversal from beneath. Though Chertow lacks Martin's all-around technique, he makes up for it with intensity. As a high school recruit from Huntington, W.Va., Chertow visited Penn State and bunked with Tim Flynn, then the Nittany Lions' 134-pounder. At 6 a.m. on the first full day of Chertow's visit, Flynn, who's now a Penn State graduate-assistant coach, was awakened by the sound of labored breathing. "I didn't know what the heck was going on," Flynn says. "When I opened my eyes, there's Kenny doing push-ups on the floor."
Such doggedness gives Chertow an edge in international competition. With his explosiveness and his wide, powerful hips, he is particularly proficient at the freestyle suplay—"the soup" as wrestlers call it—a move in which the wrestler uses a hip to pop his opponent into the air and flip him.
Martin came to Penn State having won three state high school championships while amassing a 159-2 record at Danville (Pa.) High. But he weighed only 112 pounds and redshirted his freshman year to bulk up. "Dorm food helped," he says. Still, he's no Hulk Hogan, and he has learned to rely on technique rather than strength to beat his opponents.
That technique was on display in last year's NCAA finals when Martin, who was suffering from a bruised knee and a cracked rib, came up against heavily favored champion Brad Penrith, of Iowa. With the score 4-0 against him, Martin started the third period in the down position and struggled for almost a minute before pulling off a reversal and near fall. That meant each wrestler had four points, but when riding time was factored in, Martin was the winner.
Martin is such a paragon—he doesn't drink, he's a devout Christian and is active in several programs for disadvantaged children—that a medical school interviewer looking at his records was prompted to ask him if he walked on water. Though that remark might attribute miraculous talents to Martin, the best explanation for his almost perfect academic record is plain hard work. For the past four years, his schedule has included heading to the library every night after practice to study for four or five hours until closing time. "He never eats a meal without a book in front of him," says his roommate, Brian Campbell, who wrestles for Penn State at 158 pounds. "He once told me he hated to sleep because it was a waste of time."
Chertow, who, like Martin, is the son of a physician, doesn't have Martin's self-discipline—most emphatically not in his dietary habits. One recent dinner for Chertow, for example, consisted of a pint of Gatorade, two frozen yogurt cones—pi‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±a colada and strawberry cheesecake—a banana, a swig of lemon-lime diet soda, an apple and a can of Diet Pepsi. Even Chertow's study habits tend toward the haphazard in comparison; he's been known to cram for tests by flashlight in the van bringing the Nittany Lions home from an out-of-town meet.
There's apparently some method to Chertow's madness, though: In his second year at Penn State, when he was redshirted because of a dislocated elbow, he got such high test scores he wrecked the curve in his physics and genetics classes. "That was a good feeling," he says. "After that I knew I could do anything I set my mind to."
Chertow's nickname is Hawk, short for Henery Hawk, the feisty cartoon character who takes on Foghorn Leghorn, a rooster 10 times his size. It's a fitting sobriquet. Last year, Chertow figured that his best shot to make the Olympic team was to beat Joe Gonzales, who is one of the country's best freestyle technicians and had been a 1984 Olympian at 114.5 pounds. Chertow sweated off 12 pounds to make the 114.5 limit and then eliminated Gonzales 8-6, 13-7 at the trials to earn an Olympic berth. Unfortunately, the Hawk had to wrestle Valentin Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the third round in Seoul and was eliminated before the medal round.
Come fall, Martin and Chertow will be in medical school, though both hope to continue wrestling. Chertow has applied to Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Marshall, and he has already been accepted at West Virginia University. All four medical schools will allow him to continue coaching youngsters and to train for the 1992 Olympics. Martin is undecided between studying at Penn State or Penn. "My dad says medical school will be a lot easier once I stop wrestling," Martin says. "I don't really believe him, though."
Maybe it will, maybe it won't. One thing is for certain: Penn State assistant coach Hachiro Oishi could have been speaking for more than just the Nittany Lions when he asked Martin's mother, "Can't you make any more like him?"