By Gary Abbott
Along with his twin brother Duane, a teenage boy named Dennis Koslowski was exposed to wrestling during physical education class in Webster, S.D. Who would know that this would eventually lead the twins to an international wrestling career that would take them both to the Olympic Games?
“The high school wrestling coach was also the phys ed teacher,” said Duane Koslowski. “He recognized two young farm boys as raw but very strong. We both did well at an early age in wrestling.”
It was Dennis, the smaller of the two twin brothers, who became one of the most successful U.S. Greco-Roman wrestlers ever and now a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“It was the instant gratification of hard work that appealed to me,” said Dennis Koslowski about wrestling. “You put in the effort and it pays off. You learn new moves and get to see it work in competition. Duane and I were the type of guys who, on the long ride home from tournaments, would go over every portion of the matches while the other guys were sleeping. We had a different approach.”
Dennis Koslowski became the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two medals at the Olympic Games. Koslowski captured a bronze medal at 100 kg/220 lbs. at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, and came back to win a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
“His power was legendary, his skills were masterful, and his composure was rock solid,” said Tom Minkel, head coach of the 1992 Olympic Greco-Roman Team. “He routinely wrecked the opponents in his weight class “and he was a gentleman while doing it.”
At Doland High School in South Dakota, Duane Koslowski was a state champion and state runner-up in wrestling, while Dennis Koslowski was third in the state two times. The brothers went on to the University of Minnesota-Morris, where they both excelled in wrestling and football.
Dennis won two NCAA Div. III national wrestling titles at UM-Morris, capturing the 190 title in 1980 and the Heavyweight title in 1982. Duane won the Div. III national wrestling title in wrestling once. In football, Dennis was a three-time All-Conference offensive lineman, while Duane made All-Conference and All-American as a lineman. The brothers competed in the NCAA Div. III football playoffs four times, including two trips to the semifinals.
It was Dennis Koslowski who continued wrestling after college, with encouragement from 1980 Olympian Brad Rheingans and talented Greco-Roman coach Dan Chandler. Koslowski went to Minneapolis to attend chiropractor school, and trained in Greco-Roman, a style which he had no previous experience. Duane retired from wrestling, as he concentrated on his family and a professional career.
Koslowski quickly became a force in U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling. He won the his first of seven USA Wrestling national titles in 1983 and defeated talented Greg Gibson to make his first U.S. World team that year, placing sixth in the World. In the 1984 Olympic Trials, however, Gibson defeated Koslowski in a close three-match battle, and Gibson went on to win an Olympic silver medal at the Los Angeles Games.
“I was just starting to get the hang of it,” said Dennis Koslowski. “Part of me didn’t want to go to that Olympic camp. But if my idea was to continue, I knew that experience would be in my memory. I worked out with Gibson and Jeff Blatnick all summer. I never lost to them the whole time. That was also when Duane decided to throw his hat in the ring, and become a training partner for me. It worked out great for us both.”
Duane moved up to Minneapolis, and “the Minnesota twins” became a force internationally. Dennis was sixth in the 1985 World Championships and seventh in the 1986 World Championships. In 1987, Dennis made his first major international breakthrough, winning a World silver medal. Duane placed fourth in the 1986 World Championships and fifth in the 1987 World Championships.
“All throughout our wrestling career, we leapfrogged one another,” said Dennis Koslowski of his wrestling journey alongside brother Duane. “One would have success and the other one would see it and also get better. We’d think if he can do it, I can do it. Each of us would surge at different times and see the other brother’s confidence.”
Dennis realized that he had done everything necessary to be an international star, and focused on winning the close matches against the top competitors.
“From the first time I made the World Team, my focus turned to being the best in the world, not just the best in the USA,” said Dennis. “I studied my opponents, watched tape, and reviewed tactics. My thing was that a guy was never going to take me down with his best move or turn me with his best move. I got into the physical conditioning level where it became a physical chess match. I got to where I belonged there. It was a matter of doing it on the mat.”
In 1988, the Koslowski brothers reached their dream of qualifying for the Olympic Games, winning the Olympic Trials and earning a trip to the Seoul Games. At the Olympics, Dennis had the best performance on the U.S. team, capturing the bronze medal. His loss was to eventual champion Andrej Wronski of Poland. Dennis was the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win a medal at a non-boycotted Olympics. Duane placed eighth at super heavyweight.
After the Seoul Olympics, the Koslowski brothers retired from competition. Dennis accepted the position of National Greco-Roman Coach for USA Wrestling, the first full-time professional coach to lead Greco-Roman Team USA. In 1989, under Koslowski’s leadership, the USA placed sixth in the World Championships, led by World silver medalist Michial Foy. In 1990, Koslowski resigned from his coaching position to return to Minnesota to start his own chiropractic practice and focus more on his family.
“I had more time to apply to wrestling that year as a coach,” said Koslowski. “I studied a lot of tape and saw the tactics of the best wrestlers in the world. I knew if I wanted to wrestle again that I needed a break. As the coach, I worked out and wrestled every day. I thought to myself that I can still do it.”
Koslowski returned to the mats in 1991 for another run at the Olympic Games. He won his sixth career U.S. Nationals title then earned a spot on the World Team. Although he did not surrender an offensive point, Koslowski placed seventh at the World meet. In 1992, Koslowski won his seventh national title then qualified for his second Olympic Games with a victory at the Olympic Trials.
In the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, Koslowski defeated 1988 Olympic champion Andzej Wronski of Poland in the opening match, then qualified for the gold-medal finals, where he was defeated by Cuba’s World champion Hector Millian in a hard-fought battle in overtime. His silver medal was once again the top performance of a U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler at the Olympics.
“I felt like I was on a wave, and as long as I didn’t get in my own way, I’d get a medal,” said Dennis Koslowski. “I felt I did what I had to do to win. I was super confident.”
Koslowski was the first U.S. Greco-Roman wrestler to win two Olympic medals. Only one person has matched his feat, the legendary Rulon Gardner. His three career Greco-Roman World and Olympic medals was also matched by Gardner, behind only Matt Ghaffari with four Greco-Roman medals. His seven national titles, two national runner-up finishes, four World Cup silver medals, two Pan American Games silver medals and four Concord Cup International titles stacks up with the best in American history.
“We have had many outstanding Greco-Roman wrestlers in the United States, but very few who were great. Dennis Koslowski was great and it is fitting that he will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame,” said Dan Chandler, Koslowski’s club coach and an Olympic team coach. “As a coach, it was always a pleasure to work with an athlete who was a true student of the sport. It was highlight of my coaching career to have worked with Dennis in Seoul and Barcelona.”
Not only was Dennis Koslowski successful on the mat, but he wrestled with a passion and style that made him great.
“His discipline and belief was always there,” said twin brother Duane. “A lot of people could have quit along the journey. When you had to wrestle him, he wore you out. There was not a lot of finesse. You could see World class guys who wrestled him and just quit. He wasn’t going around you. He was going through you.”
His chiropractor practice in Minneapolis has thrived, with Koslowski working with the NFL Minnesota Vikings as well as other important clients. He remained active in wrestling by coaching with the Minnesota Storm club and helping train other Greco-Roman wrestlers. Koslowski has been elected into the Div. III Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as the UM-Morris Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It is overwhelming,” said Dennis Koslowski of being elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “There are a lot of different roads to the Hall of Fame. I didn’t have the pedigree coming out of high school and college. That is what I am most proud of. It is very exciting to tell my coaches, friends and training partners about this honor.”