CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA MARCH 21-22, 1997 EVEN ON HIS CUSTOM CRUTCHES, GABLE, IOWA'S NATIVE SON, DOESN'T DISAPPOINT

March 31, 1997

Last week in Waterloo, Iowa, curators at the Grout Museum of
History and Science noted with satisfaction the large number of
young men in jeans and baseball caps who plunked down $2.50 to
wander through an exhibit entitled "Dan Gable: The Making of a
Champion." Going in, the youths gawked at a faux bearskin cape
presented to Gable, who was born in Waterloo, by Soviet
wrestlers in 1972. Coming out, they watched the video Dan Gable,
Competitor Supreme. And in between, they met the '72 Olympic 149
1/2-pound champ--touted in a 1993 Des Moines Register headline
as THE ONLY WRESTLER EVERYBODY KNOWS--as a life-sized,
ready-to-grapple-with cardboard cutout. By happenstance, the
effigy stood just a few steps from a case of stuffed owls.

The flesh-and-blood Gable was in nearby Cedar Falls, reminding
everyone that he is not yet a museum piece. Over the weekend the
48-year-old Gable once again fulfilled the hopes of the faithful
by leading the Hawkeyes to their 15th NCAA championship in his
21 seasons. The somewhat unexpected victory--Oklahoma State was
favored, having defeated Iowa at the National Duals in
January--closed a season unlike any other in Gable's career.
Forced to undergo hip replacement surgery on Jan. 23, he missed
four dual meets, finished the season on crutches and sent out
signals that he was about to retire.

"There's only so much pain you can take," he said between
Saturday sessions at Northern Iowa's UNI-Dome. Not physical
pain, he hastened to add, but the emotional hurt that is an
inescapable part of coaching. "You have a kid you get attached
to, and suddenly he doesn't win? That's been happening to me the
last few years, and I find it hard to handle."

Gable's team didn't cause him much grief as it romped through
Friday's quarterfinal and semifinal matches in the 10 weight
classes. Supposedly weak at several weights, the Hawkeyes sent
six wrestlers, including a fourth, a fifth and a sixth seed, to
the finals. Upperclassmen Mark Ironside (134 pounds), Joe
Williams (158) and Lincoln McIlravy (150) won their first,
second and third national titles, respectively, and sixth-seeded
senior Jessie Whitmer won at 118 pounds in his first NCAA
appearance. For a final thrill, aptly named sophomore Lee
Fullhart won the 190-pound division in a 4-3 tiebreaker. Iowa's
team score of 170 points left runner-up Oklahoma State gasping
at 113.5 and destroyed the old record of 158, set by Iowa in
1986. "This is a tribute to Gable," said McIlravy, who was named
the tournament's outstanding wrestler. "He's a perfectionist,
and I'm lucky to be part of it."

That's how many in the crowd felt. As Gable hobbled his way
around the arena on a pair of custom-made crutches painted in
Iowa black and gold, hands reached over the railing and handed
him hats, programs, T-shirts, anything. It was a Gable Lovefest,
a toast to the state's greatest athletic hero. Gable was relaxed
and signed everything thrust his way. He was at ease during the
finals, too, although clinching the team title after the
semifinal round presumably had something to do with that.

Afterward Gable was noncommittal when asked if he would return
for another season. And he was loath to accept the notion that
his possible retirement had influenced the outcome. "The
wrestlers are used to the idea that I might not be back," he
said. "They're not used to being in second place."

Maybe. Back at the museum, a favorite line of Gable's crowned a
wall display celebrating his accomplishments at Iowa: TO COACH
SOMEONE TO BE THE BEST IS A MUCH HIGHER HONOR THAN BEING THE
BEST. Gable now must wrestle with a dilemma of his own making:
to go out on top or pursue that "higher honor" for at least one
more season.

--JOHN GARRITY

COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN [Dan Gable coaching wrestlers]

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)