In the summer of 1996, the eyes of the wrestling world weren’t transfixed on ratings or politics. They were locked onto 27-year-old American Kurt Angle, who was putting the finishing touches on one of the most decorated careers in the sport’s modern history with an Olympic gold medal victory in Atlanta.
Now, the concern in the wrestling world is whether the sport’s tradition can earn it a spot in the 2020 Games and beyond — and it’s all Angle’s icy blue eyes are focused on.
“It’s all about politics and money, and there’s no more tradition or history that really interests the IOC [International Olympic Committee], or at least that’s the way it’s basically perceived now,” lamented Angle, who at 44 is on top of an entirely different world of wrestling.
There wasn’t much left to prove after Angle defeated Abbas Jadidi of Iran for the gold in ’96. He had already captured whatever championships there were at any level: a Pennsylvania state championship with Mount Lebanon High School, two NCAA championships for Clarion University, a gold medal in the World Championships, and the Olympic gold. He had risen so high in the sport that his head was crashing against the ceiling.