US Olympic Freestyle Dream Dual: 1972 vs 1992

What Would Happen if Two of the Greatest Olympic Teams Ever Went Head-to-Head? Read Below to Find Out

By Kyle Klingman “TWM Columnist
Please send comments, questions or replies to: [email protected]

When conversations arise about great United States freestyle Olympic wrestling teams the athletes who competed at the 1972 Munich Games are usually at the top of the list. Not only was it one of the best teams but it was a unique team, a rare combination of differing personalities that ranged from devout Christians (John & Ben Peterson and Gene Davis), a training fanatic who revolutionized the sport (Dan Gable), a radical hippie (Rick Sanders), the heaviest Olympic athlete ever, (Chris Taylor), a 17-year old high school student (Jimmy Carr), and a wrestler who was studying for the bar exam while training for Olympics (Wayne Wells).

But was this the greatest Olympic wrestling team ever? Certainly the medal count from the 1972 freestyle squad lends credibility to those who make the claim that this often-talked about team stands alone at the top. In an era of Soviet wrestling domination (their teams won seven out of eight world team titles from 1962 through 1971) the United States put up an impressive medal count that year. In all, the U.S. freestyle team won six medals, including three golds, two silvers, and a bronze.
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When looking through every fully contested Olympics since World War II only one team can match the medal haul that the 1972 team turned in. Twenty years later the freestyle wrestlers that competed at Barcelona in 1992 turned in the exact same medal count as their 1972 counterparts. It was three golds, two silvers, and a bronze once again as the boys from Barcelona made their push as the greatest freestyle team ever.

Note: The 1984 team deserves mentioning as one of the best teams ever as their medal total was impressive. The freestyle team won seven gold medals and two silvers, the highest gold medal and medal percentage since World War II. However, the Soviet-bloc boycott makes it hard to know where to place this team as 23 of the 30 medalists from the previous year’s world championships were not in attendance. It is also impossible to rank the 1980 team because they did not compete due to a U.S. boycott.

While it is pure speculation on anyone’s part it appears that the 1972 and 1992 United States freestyle teams stand out from the rest of the pack. Trying to pick a clear winner between the two is tricky. Because of rule changes to the sport over the last century making a comparison between the two teams is nearly impossible.

For example, matches in 1972 were nine minutes in length with no technical falls whereas matches in 1992 were six minutes with technical falls occurring when a wrestler had scored 15 more points than his opponent. Because of this fact a wrestler from either era would train differently for different kind of matches.

Another major factor between the two teams was the weigh-in rules. In 1972 wrestlers had to make scratch weight two hours prior to the start of the first match competed that day. By 1992 you still had to make scratch weight every day but wrestlers weighed in the night before which meant approximately 12 hours of recovery time versus two to three hours 20 years earlier.

Unfortunately for wrestling fans, FILA (the dubious governing body of international wrestling) has changed the rules of the sport more times than Steve Mocco has used his foot sweep. For FILA it doesn’t matter when and where they change the rules. If something sounds interesting they’ll do.

You won’t have to look any further than what they did prior to the 1992 Olympics to see the ridiculousness of how this poorly run organization works. At Olympic Trials wrestlers were not put down for passivity. Then, a month before the Olympics, they change the rules so that wrestlers are put down for passivity while caution and disqualification procedures were eliminated.

Virtually every rule that was in place in 1972 was different by 1992. Passivity was called differently, techniques were approached differently, and the par terre position was restructured. The sport had changed completely over a 20 year period. Even the way a wrestler won a gold medal was different. In 1972 the black mark system was in place and the winner of the round robin was declared the winner. In 1992 the winner from pool A wrestled the winner from pool B.

Nonetheless, I’m ready to put the 1972 and 1992 U.S. Olympic freestyle teams to the test to decide once and for all what team can be called the greatest ever. In the tradition of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton this dispute will be settled in a mythical dual meet between the two legendary squads. (Only nobody will die).

Because of the time gap between the two teams there will have to be a set of rules by which these two teams compete against each other. Fortunately, FILA did not eliminate any weight classes during this time period so a match-by-match comparison is relatively simple.

The matches will last seven minutes with the first period lasting four minutes and second period lasting three minutes. A two minute sudden victory overtime period will take place in the event of a tie. If the match is still tied after overtime the two wrestlers will be taken out back and Chris Taylor will sit on them both at the same time.

Takedowns will follow in one, three, and five point increments with an additional point for grand amplitude. Any back exposure will be worth two points and a reversal will be worth one point. Exposing your opponent’s back for five seconds will warrant an additional point. No wrestler will be cautioned out of a match but can be put down for passivity. Technical falls do not apply but a superior decision will be awarded if a wrestler wins by 15 points or more.

This meet will be contested based on how good that individual was during that particular Olympic year. For example, Kendall Cross was on both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams. He won the gold medal in 1996 but placed sixth in 1992 and will be judged based on his performance from that year.

Dual meet points will be assigned as such:

“¢ 3 points to the winner of a match by decision and 1 point for the loser if he scores technical points during the match.
“¢ 3 points to the winner of a match by decision and no points for the loser if he does not score technical points during the match.
“¢ 4 points to the winner of a match by superior decision and 1 point for the loser if he scores technical points during the match.
“¢ 4 points to the winner of a match by superior decision and no points for the loser if he does not score technical points during the match.
“¢ 4 points for a pin.

U.S. Olympic Freestyle Team Dual “1972 versus 1992

105.5 “Sergio Gonzalez (7th in 1972) versus Tim Vanni (5th in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: Gonzalez went undefeated in his three matches. In his first match of the tournament Gonzalez tied the defending world champion but also had draws in his next two matches which put him out of the tournament with six black marks.

Vanni went 5-2, winning his first four matches but lost two straight which put him out of medal contention. He came back to win his fifth place match 1-0.

Match synopsis: Gonzalez and Vanni are tied at the end of regulation 3-3. Vanni scores one point in overtime on a single leg.

Match result: Vanni defeats Gonzalez 4-3 in overtime

Team score: 3-1 in favor of 1992

114.5 “Jimmy Carr (DNP in 1972) versus Zeke Jones (2nd in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: The 17-year-old Carr went 1-2 during his competition. He was pinned in his first match, got a pin in his second match, then was pinned in his third match and was eliminated from competition.

Zeke Jones was near the top of his game despite some injuries during the Olympics. Jones, who was the defending world champion, won his first two matches by technical fall followed by two close wins which put him in the finals where he lost his gold medal match 8-1. His overall record was 4-1 for the tournament.

Match synopsis: Based on experience and past results the match goes to Jones by an overwhelming margin but he does give up one point during the course of the action.

Match result: Jones wins by superior decision 17-1

Team score: 7-2 in favor of 1992

125.5 “Rick Sanders (2nd in 1972) versus Kendall Cross (6th in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: Sanders won a silver medal at the 1968 Olympics and placed third, second, and first at the ’66, ’67, and ’69 world championships. The Oregon native went 6-1 during the 1972 Olympic competition, picking up five pins, a decision, and one loss to the eventual champion Hideaki Yanagida of Japan. Sanders gave an impressive showing by putting on a display of wrestling ability and showmanship.

The man they called Gumby was competing in his first of two Olympic Games. Cross went 3-2, winning his first three matches before dropping two matches. He was pinned in his match for fifth place.

Match synopsis: The feature match of the night pits two of the most limber and unorthodox wrestlers against each other. The bout turns into a wild offensive shootout with both wrestlers putting on a display of funk that the world has never witnessed. The two combatants get into some crazy flurries with each wrestler making up moves during the course of seven minutes.

Early in the match Cross hits a head chauncer and surprises Sanders with a high gut wrench. But old dad has a few tricks of his own that he pulls out in mass quantities as the match wears on. In the second period Sanders unleashes his spladle and scores the last 11 points of the match. The sellout crowd gives both wrestlers a standing ovation.

Match result: Sanders wins by superior decision 52-31

Team score: 8-6 in favor of 1992

136.5 “Gene Davis (DNP in 1972) versus John Smith (1st in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: Davis lost to the eventual gold medal winner by pin in the third round and lost by superior decision in the second round after starting out the competition with a pin.

John Smith’s 1992 gold medal was his sixth world or Olympic championship in a row. But 1992 was his worst year of the six. Fortunately for Smith, USA Wrestling instituted a rule that all world team members from 1991 would have an automatic bid to the finals of the Olympic Trials. He won, but barely. Smith was admittedly sick and under-trained heading into the Trials and was beaten by John Fisher in his first match 4-2 but came back to win 3-1 and 6-5 in the deciding matches.

At the Olympics Smith started slow, winning 3-2 and 2-1 in his opening matches but followed up with an 8-0 win and an impressive 17-1 technical fall over Azizov of Russia, putting him in the finals despite having one match to go in pool competition against his nemesis Lazaro Reinoso Martinez of Cuba. Smith lost the match to Martinez 3-1 in overtime but shut out Mohammadian of Iran 6-0 to win the gold.

Match synopsis: Cowboy pride is on the line as both wrestlers give a good showing. Smith’s quickness and mat ability are too much for Davis.

Match result: Smith wins by decision 14-2.

Team score: 11-7 in favor of 1992

149.5 “Dan Gable (1st in 1972) versus Townsend Saunders (7th in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: What else can you say about Dan Gable’s performance in 1972? Gable gave up one point during 21 matches at three Olympic qualification tournaments and at the Olympics. In the final Olympic Trials he beat next year’s world champion Lloyd Keaser 22-0 and 11-0. At the Olympics the former Cyclone earned three pins, a superior decision, and two decisions without giving up a point.

Townsend Saunders finished with a 3-2 record along with a win over 1991 world silver medalist Chris Wilson in his seventh place match. In his second match he dropped a 4-1 decision to Arsen Fadzaev who won his eighth world or Olympic title that year.

Match synopsis: Because of Saunders low center of gravity and stingy defense Gable finds it hard to score early. As time ticks away the famed Gable conditioning starts to take over and he begins to gain momentum. In an uncharacteristic move, Gable looks over at the clock and sees he is ahead 8-0 with one minute remaining. Understanding the historical significance of the dual meet, Gable scores on a go behind takedown and hooks up a double chicken wing so tight that Saunders can barely breathe. With 15 seconds left Gable earns the fall. In his excitement the future Iowa wrestling coach flexes for the crowd and shouts “strongest man in the world!” while the crowd goes into a frenzy.

Match result: Gable wins by fall at 6:45.

Team score: 11-11

163 “Wayne Wells (1st in 1972) versus Kenny Monday (2nd in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics:An 8-0 performance with four pins paced Wayne Wells to a gold medal. Wells, a world champion in 1970, entered round robin competition with only two black marks and won his final match 8-5 over eventual bronze medal winner Adolf Seger.

Nine days prior to the start of wrestling competition Kenny Monday blew out his shoulder on the last go of practice. In spite of the injury Monday put on an inspired silver medal showing. The former Oklahoma State star won his first four matches without giving up a single point. Going for the gold medal in his fifth match Monday gave up his only point with seconds left in the match to lose a heartbreaking decision to Park Jang-Soon of South Korea 1-0. Monday was also a 1988 Olympic champion, 1989 world champion, and 1991 world silver medalist.

Match synopsis: It is Olympic bedlam as two Oklahoma natives battle it out for in-state bragging rights for their respective schools. Half way through the first period Monday hits Wells with a lateral drop for a three point takedown. In the second period Wells scores a one-point takedown and gets a two point turn to tie the match. With 30 seconds remaining Monday forces the action but Wells takes advantage of Monday’s injured shoulder and hits his patented duck under for the victory. The 1972 squad gets their first lead of the night.

Match result: Wells wins by decision: 4-3

Team score: 14-12 in favor of 1972

180.5 “John Peterson (2nd in 1972) versus Kevin Jackson (1st in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: John Peterson turned in an excellent silver medal showing by going 5-1 with two pins. His only loss was to the Soviet Union’s great champion Levan Tediashvili. Peterson was on the 1971 world team but did not place.

Like John Smith and Zeke Jones, Jackson came in to the ’92 Olympics as the defending world champion. The former four-time All-American executed his game plan to perfection, winning all six of his matches by decision. His gold medal match was won when he scored the only point of the match in overtime against the 1989 world champion.

Match synopsis: This bout plays out like the first Rocky. Peterson comes into the match as the underdog having placed fifth once in the NAIA at 167 pounds as a senior in college. Prior to the Olympics the “powers that be” were questioning how successful both he and his brother Ben would be at the Games. Like Rocky, Peterson liked to go to the body with a devastating head on double leg. Jackson, on the other hand, was one of the most physically impressive wrestlers ever. He was super strong, super fast, super built and nearly impossible to score on.

Early in the match Jackson’s speed and quickness are in full force. Right off the whistle Jackson nails Peterson with a lighting fast double leg takedown. Jackson scores two more takedowns in the first to take a 3-0 lead heading into the second period. In the second period Peterson makes an offensive surge but Jackson’s defense is too much. Peterson goes the distance and more but loses the match in a tough, hard-nosed battle between two great champions.

At the conclusion of the match the two exhausted warriors embrace in the center of the mat. Jackson says to Peterson, “There ain’t gonna be no rematch.” To which Peterson replies, “Don’t want one.”

Match result: Jackson wins by decision 8-6

Team score: 15-15

198 “Ben Peterson (1st in 1972) versus Chris Campbell (3rd in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: The pin was Ben Peterson’s saving grace at the ’72 Olympics. Because he had tied with his Soviet opponent in the third round Peterson won the gold medal by virtue of having more pins. Both wrestlers went 5-0-1 but Peterson had three pins to Strakhov’s two.

After winning the world championships in 1981, Chris Campbell did not wrestle competitively until he made a comeback in 1990. At the world championships that year Campbell placed second to Makharbek Khadartsev. In 1991 the former Hawkeye beat Khadartzev at the world’s but lost to the Cuban in pool and had to settle for fifth.

At 37 years of age Campbell entered the 1992 Olympics in hopes of finally earning an Olympic medal. He drew Khadartzev in the first round and was beaten 7-0 but reeled off four consecutive wins to earn a bronze medal in his last wrestling competition.

Both Campbell and Peterson were members of the 1980 Olympic team at 180.5 and 198 pounds respectively.

Match synopsis: Rocky II. Peterson and Campbell slug it out for a solid seven minutes. Campbell holds a two point lead with 45 seconds remaining but the youthfulness of Peterson begins to wear Campbell down. Peterson scores two points late to send the match into overtime. Before the overtime period Ben looks over at John for motivation. Ben scores a double leg late in overtime on a tired Campbell.

Match result: Peterson wins by decision 10-9 in overtime.

Team score: 18-16 in favor of 1972

220 “Henk Schenk (DNP in 1972) versus Mark Coleman (7th in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: Schenk lost two matches in a row and was eliminated from competition.

Coleman placed seventh with a 3-2 record. At the 1991 world championships Coleman placed second with a 4-3 record.

Match synopsis: Coleman has no trouble handling Schenk, controlling the match from start to finish.

Match result: Coleman wins by decision 5-1

Team score: 19-19

UNL “Chris Taylor (3rd in 1972) versus Bruce Baumgartner (1st in 1992)

How they fared at the Olympics: In the first round of competition Chris Taylor lost a controversial decision to two-time Olympic gold medalist Alexander Medved of the Ukraine 3-2. The referee in charge of the match was dismissed from the competition. Taylor won his remaining four matches, three by decision and one by default to earn the bronze medal. Medved won his third Olympic gold medal.

Bruce Baumgartner was on his A game at the ’92 Olympics. After a disappointing seventh place finish at the 1991 world championships Baumgartner came back with a vengeance to win his second Olympic gold medal. In six matches he outscored five opponents by a 35-1 margin and earned an 11 second pin.

Match synopsis: With the dual meet tied both wrestler are cautious. The obvious weight advantage plays a factor in the early stages and Baumgartner finds it difficult to budge Taylor. On this day, however, Baumgartner is just too good for Taylor and notches a close decision. At the conclusion of the meet Baumgartner leads his 1992 team in a victory celebration by carrying an American flag around the arena while his teammates follow close behind.

Match result: Baumgartner wins by decision 4-3

Final score: 22-20 in favor of 1992

Kyle Klingman can also be reached at [email protected]

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