Two men dominated Olympic wrestling in Atlanta, one from a
grave, the other from a prison cell. They drove some athletes to
triumph but encumbered others. They caused a rift in the U.S.
team while binding tight an international fraternity. They made
a lot of burly men cry and one thin woman strong. The week
belonged to a ghost and a prisoner--the murdered American
wrestler Dave Schultz and his accused killer, eccentric
millionaire John du Pont, who police say gunned the wrestler
down in his own driveway, with Schultz's wife, Nancy, watching
in horror as Du Pont fired the last shot.
Nobody knew if Nancy would come to the Olympics, where her
husband had hoped to duplicate his gold medal performance of
1984. She did, and the Olympics turned out to be a very good
place to cry, big shoulders and bear hugs everywhere you looked.
And though each day she would hear Dave in the back of her mind
saying what he always said to her when things got rough--"Tough
as nails, Schultzy. Tough as nails"--there were times when she
just couldn't be. She might be fine, remembering with others the
lovable Schultz, the man who knew six languages, who was so
popular he could travel the world for months without ever
checking into a hotel room. But then some giant Russian or
hulking Ukrainian would come up and hold her so tight that it
would break through all that resolve, and they would both end up
"See, Mom," said Alex, her 10-year-old son, who was in Atlanta
too, along with his seven-year-old sister, Danielle. "I drew
this of you." It was a woman with big black circles around her
eyes. "That's because you never sleep."
It was true. Ever since her husband's death in January,
nighttime has never been quite the same for Nancy. Last week the
days were no picnic, either, but she stayed in Atlanta anyway.
"I want my kids to be around the people who loved Dave," she
said. And they were everywhere. Most of the time Alex and
Danielle could be seen on wrestlers' shoulders or in wrestlers'
half nelsons or on massive wrestlers' laps. Wasn't it wrestlers
who had slept on Nancy's floor the first two months after the
murder, just to get her through those nights? Wasn't it
wrestlers who had always been part of their lives?
August 11, 1996
In fact Nancy was at these Olympics because even in her grief
she had made herself indispensable to those athletes. When Dave
was murdered and Du Pont arrested, most of the wrestlers under
Du Pont's umbrella left immediately. Kurt Angle was one of
them. With money raised from a variety of sources, Nancy put
together the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club, and Angle was able to
keep training right up to Atlanta, where he won gold. "Dave was
my coach," Angle said. "I'm like a puppy. I do what he did. I
know Dave is with me. I can feel him. And it gives me strength."
Angle's grit gave a lot of people strength. Twice in these
Games, the 220-pound Pittsburgh boy came from behind in a match.
After his gold medal bout with Iranian Abbas Jadidi ended in a
1-1 tie, Angle's years of training came down to an official's
decision. The referee walked off the mat to get the verdict,
returned to the center of the ring with the two wrestlers and
took hold of each of their wrists. At first it appeared that the
referee was raising Jadidi's arm, but it was only Jadidi trying
to force it up. "That scared the heck out of me," said Angle.
Then suddenly the referee raised Angle's arm, and the American
fell to his knees in jubilation, tears flowing down his
perfectly square jaw and chiseled body. Angle gave the gold to
his mother, who raised him alone after her husband died in a
construction accident 11 years ago. Then Angle said, "If I died
right now, I'd still be happy."
The Iranian, though, could not accept the decision. At the medal
ceremony, he stood off to the side glaring at the international
wrestling officials, gesturing and cursing until he was pushed
to the podium by his coach. When the presenter attempted to slip
the silver-medal ribbon over Jadidi's head, the Iranian stared
at it as if it were a noose. He refused to grasp the bouquet of
flowers given to the medal winners--it had to be pressed into
his right hand. Other than that, Jadidi seemed to be enjoying
himself immensely. "The gold medal hanging around his neck
belongs to me," he said.
Although Angle had bolted from Du Pont's facilities after the
murder, a few U.S. wrestlers continued to accept Du Pont's money
up to three weeks before the Olympics. One of them was 136-pound
Tom Brands, who also won a gold, brawling his way through the
Olympic field like a bouncer tossing drunks into the street.
Brands gave up one point all week, was the finest wrestler in a
U.S. singlet and was typically unapologetic. "I didn't need the
[Du Pont] money to win the gold," he said. "I probably could've
won the gold living in a gutter. I just never saw it as money
coming from Du Pont."
Though all the Americans wore a small black patch in Schultz's
memory--a few of them even wore T-shirts bearing Schultz's
picture and the words the legend lives on--the team was far from
unified. Brands, as usual, kept his distance from the other
American wrestlers, and despite his insistence that the Du Pont
money was of no consequence, accepting it clearly did not
endear him to most members of the wrestling community. "That
money is blood money, paid for with my brother's life," Mark
Schultz said last week from Provo, Utah. "It's wrong. The guy is
a murderer, and these guys were accepting money from a murderer.
They're trying to justify it in their own minds. Who knows what
their reasons are?"
The American who seemed most hurt by the absence of the
charismatic Schultz was 163-pounder Kenny Monday, who wrestled
in Schultz's weight class but could not take his place. Monday
was Brands in reverse. He was trying to make a comeback after
three years of running a coffee shop and a Subway store in
Tulsa, and he looked like a man who was wrestling with a load of
hoagies in him. Indeed, he weighed 185, 22 pounds over his
limit, the day after his final match. Monday won his first two
matches but was creamed in his third, and then just flat ran out
of steam after leading the Japanese wrestler Takuya Ota 2-0 in a
last chance for a bronze.
Such a collapse was not expected from a man whose chief rival
throughout his career had been Schultz. Schultz had beaten
Monday for years, then Monday began to dominate and had beaten
Schultz in their last seven matches. Yet when Monday won the
gold in Seoul in 1988 after beating Schultz in the U.S. trials,
it was Schultz who lifted Monday on his shoulders and paraded
him around the mat. When Monday lost the gold medal match in
1992 in Barcelona, it was Schultz who hugged him and picked up
his bag and carried it back to the Olympic Village. It was
Monday who begged USA Wrestling to sever all ties with Du Pont
months before Schultz's murder, after Du Pont threw three black
wrestlers out of his Team Foxcatcher camp because he associated
the color black with death. "This guy is crazy," Monday said at
the time, "and it's going to blow up in our faces."
Whether Schultz would have fared better in these Olympics is
debatable, but he most certainly would have been in shape.
Schultz had been wrestling all three of the years Monday had
taken off, and he was widely expected to beat Monday in the
That match never happened, thanks to the scraggly-haired,
shaggy-bearded man sitting in solitary in Delaware County Prison
in Thornton, Pa., who is not allowed to watch television, listen
to the radio or read magazines and newspapers, and who takes
little more than tea and crackers in his 69-square-foot cell, a
place that must seem a long way from his 800-acre estate in
Newtown Square, Pa. It was unclear whether Du Pont knew how the
U.S. team he had bankrolled for the last eight years had fared
in Atlanta. The three American gold medals--won by Angle, Brands
and 125-pounder Kendall Cross--equaled the biggest American haul
in a nonboycotted Olympics since 1924. Not only that, but
heavyweight Bruce Baumgartner's bronze gave him more world
championship and Olympic medals (13) than any other wrestler in
history. It seems likely that Du Pont knew. He has had more
than 150 visits from his employees during his six months in jail
and another 400 from his lawyers, who say he is mentally unfit
to stand trial. "The law of Moses requires death," Mark Schultz
says, "but we don't live under that law. It's too bad."
Du Pont's trial should begin next month, and Nancy is the star
witness. She has already appeared in court six times, and now
that she has moved her family from Philadelphia to Palo Alto,
Calif., to be closer to Dave's parents, the proceeding is going
to be that much more difficult. Angle may leave the Dave Schultz
Club to join his coaches at the Sunkist Club in Phoenix, but
Nancy will continue to try to raise money for her wrestlers.
They need her. She needs them.
They will miss each other. When Bulgarian 114-pounder Valentin
Dimitrov Jordanov won the gold medal last Friday afternoon, he
came sprinting off the mat, around the barriers, and scooped
Alex Schultz out of the crowd. He headed for the locker room,
where the guards panicked for a moment until Jordanov smiled
hugely and yelped, "This is my boy here! This is my son!"
It was a lovely moment, but it couldn't last. Jordanov got on a
plane for home after the Olympics ended, as did Angle and Monday
and everybody else. Now the hard part begins.
Tough as nails, Schultzy.