He was unaware that by the end of the festivities he would learn that he would be immortalized in front of the very arena that he turned into a Mecca for amateur wrestling.
Gable mouthed the word “Wow” and his fingers slightly rubbed his chin as University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta announced to a crowd of nearly 1,000 people at the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center on Saturday that a seven-foot statue would be erected in front of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in time for the 2012 United States Olympic Team Wrestling Trials on April 21-22.
He wasn’t expecting that to be part of his retirement bash.
“I wasn’t prepared for that,” Gable said. “I wasn’t prepared for the statue, because my wife (Kathy) broke down someone had to stay strong.”
Gable said he had endured an emotional few days, leading up to the event. He might have been tapped out by Saturday night’s presentation. It came at the end of a ceremony that contained a number of speakers share stories of his career and what they experienced as the cornerstones of his legacy. Gable said it was unique and interesting to observe.
“There’s a lot of stories and things like that,” Gable said. “I really enjoyed being here tonight. Usually, I wouldn’t want to hear that kind of stuff, but I think everybody had an interesting perspective that could help people.”
The night included a highlight video and a taped message from some grandchildren, who said their grandfather likes to drink Mountain Dew and even eat chocolate doughnuts.
Humorous anecdotes were balanced with heart-felt admiration. Tom and Terry Brands, who are the current head wrestling coach and associate head coach for the Hawkeyes, talked about his influence and his unyielding standard for excellence. Ben Peterson, a former Iowa State and Olympic teammate, and others talked about how he balanced being focused on wrestling with an even stronger devotion to his family. Minnesota head coach J Robinson, one of six current Big Ten coaches who for or by Gable, described him as being a flexible coach, a relentless competitor and a focused opponent.
They owned different relationships with Gable over the years and had their unique views, but there were consistent themes with every person who spoke. He was focused, dedicated and driven to be the best on and off the wrestling mat.
“This night was well addressed with a lot of people that really gave interesting perspectives that I thought was helpful to everybody,” Gable said. “I’m pretty proud to be associated with it.”
He said he was interested in the gracious comments from Robinson, who was an assistant to Gable from 1976-84. Gable said he had never experienced that side of Robinson, who spoke for more than 23 minutes. He zinged the rest of the group for not sharing these things previously.
“I just didn’t think they were all as smart as they were,” Gable said. “That’s what really hit me most.
“They really said some things that made sense to me. I think a lot of them have been holding back on me.”
Gable was an undefeated three-time state champion at Waterloo West for legendary coach Bob Siddens, who attended the banquet. He was a two-time NCAA champion and three-time finalist for the Cyclones, posting a 182-1 record in high school and college. Gable, a six-time Midlands champion, went on to become a World and Olympic champion, capturing the gold medal in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich without surrendering a single point.
Gable is Iowa’s all-time winningest coach, posting a 355-21-5 dual record from 1976-97, including a 95-1 mark in CHA. He coached 10 Olympic wrestlers – four gold medalists – and 45 NCAA champions, including 152 All-Americans while winning 15 NCAA team titles highlight by a streak of nine straight. He guided 106 Big Ten Champions as the Hawkeyes won 21 Big Ten team titles.
It was hard for him to identify a signature era during his tenure. Gable said it was hard to differentiate between the decades, but said the late 1980′s when the string of national titles was snapped was a key time for him as coach.
“I really think I made some major changes in my life that affected my life in an unbelievable positive manner from a coaching and a family point of view,” Gable said.
The statue will be sculpted by Larry Nowlan, who created the Nile Kinnick statue in the Krause Family Plaza. It will stand near the West Entrance of the arena and will cost about $75,000, which will be paid for with private donations, according to a news release,
Gable has a couple statues honoring him already, and commented that he didn’t have any input on those and that he doesn’t really recognize himself in those tributes. This one came as a complete surprise. He thought it would happen some day but not until he was done building his legacy.
“I thought I had still another 20-25 years of accomplishments,” Gable said, “and maybe they’d do something like that.”