Olympic dreams blossom in Iowa

by Don Doxsie

“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.” – Dan Gable, 1972 Olympic champion

It was the second of those ingredients – determination – that came to the fore as Dan Gable was grinding inexorably toward winning a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics.

The Waterloo native mowed through the 149.5-pound freestyle wrestling field with stoic efficiency and even in the moments immediately after his crowning victory he did not reflect the jubilation that had to be there, lurking beneath the surface.

“Superwrestler didn’t crack a smile while solemnly facing the crowd on each side,’’ veteran columnist Maury White wrote in the Des Moines Register.

It was only later, after the gold medal had been draped around his neck atop the podium, that Gable momentarily relaxed. He reached down and kissed the medal, then laughed.

This was the pinnacle of one of the most glorious and dominant careers ever enjoyed by any man in any sport.

It was the same with Cael Sanderson, who had an even more storied collegiate wrestling career than Gable. During four years at Iowa State University, Sanderson went 159-0 and won four NCAA championships. He won the Dan Hodge Trophy – wrestling’s version of the Heisman – an unprecedented three times.

But he had to go to all the way to Athens, Greece, two years later to find the true highlight of his wrestling career – an Olympic gold medal.

“His college career was great,’’ Iowa State coach Bobby Douglas said of his most accomplished protégé, “but that can’t compare to this. This was the greatest moment of his life.’’

That is what the Olympics are about. All things that lead up to it evaporate into the background when an athlete steps into the spotlight wearing the colors of his nation and attempts to prove he or she is the best in the world at what he or she does. It supersedes all other athletic endeavors.

Over the course of more than a century, athletes who were born in Iowa, grew up in Iowa or attended college in Iowa have scaled that mountain 45 times.