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
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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.
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).