‘Wrestling’s Olympic Fight:’ Dan Gable shares the life-altering power of Olympic gold

Ask Dan Gable: What happened to wrestling? Why is it being considered to be dropped from the Olympics?: An excerpt from our interview with the legendary wrestler Dan Gable.

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When asked to explain the thoughts that drifted through his head in 1972 as a freestyle wrestling gold medal was being placed around his neck, Dan Gable paused.

The explanation, he knew, would sound a bit odd.

“One time, it was happening when I thought was drowning,” Gable said of an accident when he was around 9 years old on the Cedar River that runs through his native Waterloo. “All of a sudden, all of these things hit me, because I was water skiing and I was being pulled under the water because the rope got wrapped around me.

“I went a couple hundred yards. I remember that 200 yards, but all of a sudden, there was a certain wave in my brain that took over.

“… I remember when I jumped on the gold medal stand (in Munich), that all of a sudden I had this similar feeling. Not like I was dying this time. It was more like everything in my life flashing before me.”

That’s the power of winning a medal at the Olympics, something wrestlers could miss experiencing if the International Olympic Committee chooses baseball-softball or squash as the final participant in the 2020 and ’24 Games during a vote in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

For Gable, the moment proved an uncontrollable avalanche of snapshots from all of his days to that point — even the murder of his 19-year-old sister Diane Gable at the family’s home in 1964.

“I saw my sister, yeah,” he said. “It was a lot of different things.”

The experience of capturing Olympic gold floored Jordan Burroughs, the most dominant competitor in the sport who won the London Games after a dominating world championship run in 2011.

He didn’t expect a congratulatory tweet from actor Samuel L. Jackson or the overwhelming correspondence that paid tribute to him though everything from children’s drawings to Halloween costumes.

Burroughs, who is unbeaten at the senior level with a 60-0 record, said considering a world without Olympic wrestling is a what-if game nearly impossible for him to fathom.

“I don’t know what I’d been doing in my life at this point,” said Burroughs, who confirmed in an interview earlier this year with the Des Moines Register that he only plans to continue competing after 2016 if wrestling remains an Olympic sport. “Maybe coaching or something. My life would be immeasurably different.”

Baseball-softball, squash and wrestling are the three sports groups set to square off for the sole remaining spot in the two-Olympic cycle that follows 2016.

There are 141 federations representing squash worldwide, while baseball — the more established part of the baseball-softball group — sits at 124. Wrestling, a sport that dates back to the ancient Olympics, claims 177.

“We’re the most logical sport to be in there,” Gable said. “We’re already built, (but) we let our guard down.

“We’re getting back on track. So it looks like we’ve got a really good shot at it.”

Gable, who established the standard for Olympic wrestling dominance in 1972 by shutting out every opponent, sometimes thinks back to the blur of images and emotions as a golden moment unfolded.

Unlike champions in so many sports, though, the experience proved so powerfully moving that it reminded him of a time when his own life proved at risk.

“I don’t know if that’s a sign before death or what,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often.”

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