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Les Gutches Takes New Position at USA Wrestling

January 18th, 2010 by Tom

Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling
Les Gutches of Corvallis, Ore. has been named to the new position of Director of Program Development for USA Wrestling, the national governing body for wrestling in the United States.

Gutches, who has a strong business background and a lifetime in wrestling as an athlete and coach, will be responsible for developing new or expanded programs, events and activities for USA Wrestling. He will work closely with state associations to increase membership and programs in underdeveloped markets in all styles of the sport. He will also expand strategic partnerships with other organizations, and assist in promotion and marketing activities.

He will also oversee the State Services staff of the organization, and work with a talented team which includes Manager of State Services Tony Black, Membership Services Assistant Shonna Vest, Manager of Coaches Education Cody Bickley and State Services Assistant Marge Civil.

"Les Gutches has an incredible reputation for integrity and performance, "said Rich Bender, USA Wrestling Executive Director. "He is a tremendous motivator, a wonderful father, a respected coach and one of our greatest champion athletes. His presence, leadership and work ethic will take USA Wrestling membership to new heights. We are excited to welcome Les Gutches to our team and are confident that his efforts will impact the entire wrestling community."

Gutches will begin at his new job at the USA Wrestling corporate headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. on February 1.

"I have been involved with USA Wrestling from my time as a PeeWee wrestler through the Senior level. I also went into coaching and remained active in the organization, "said Gutches. "To come back with the opportunity to help grow USA Wrestling and the sport in general is an exciting prospect to me. I have been in the business world for a number of years and am very excited to return to wrestling. I'm going to have the opportunity to combine my passion for the sport with an ability to apply my professional and academic experience. This is the perfect place for me."

Gutches comes to USA Wrestling after serving as four years as a commercial lender and credit analyst for Citizens Bank, Inc. in Corvallis. Among his duties was to generate and develop new business relationships for the company, as well as assisting business clients in measuring performance and strategic decision making.

He received a Masters of Business Administration from the Oregon State University's College of Business in 2006, where he was a member of the Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society. His undergraduate degree at Oregon State was in Anthropology with a minor in German Language and Literature. He was a three-time NCAA First-Team Academic All-American as an undergraduate.

He served eight years as an assistant wrestling coach at Oregon State, helping build the Beavers into one of the nation's top programs. Gutches helped coach five athletes to NCAA All-American honors. In addition to athlete instruction, he had responsibilities that included business and alumni relations activities for the program.

He was also a club coach with the Orange Crush Wrestling Club, working with athletes from the university as well as the Corvallis community. Gutches has also been an active clinician for many years, teaching young athletes on many levels.

"Membership is the lifeblood of USA Wrestling. Our membership allows USA Wrestling to invest in and grow the sport at all levels. It is exciting to me that I can make an impact in an area that is so important to the organization. I see this as a position where I can make a difference in the sport on a daily basis, "said Gutches.

As an athlete, Gutches grew up within the USA Wrestling system, competing on the local, state and national level for many years in Oregon. In fact, he was the first athlete to win USA Wrestling national titles in all five existing age group levels at the time "Cadet, Junior, Espoir, University and Senior. He competed in the World Championships on four age-group levels, as well. He won a Cadet World silver medal in 1989 and an Espoir World bronze medal in 1993. Gutches won three state high school titles at South Medford High School

Gutches had a remarkable career at Oregon State Univ., winning NCAA titles in 1995 and 1996, and placing fifth in the 1994 NCAA Championships. He received the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation's top college wrestler in 1996.

He became one of the best U.S. freestyle athletes of his era. His top achievement was winning the gold medal at the 1997 World Freestyle Wrestling Championships in Krasnoyarsk, Russia at 85 kg/187.25 pounds. He added a World bronze medal in 1999.

After his senior year in college, Gutches won both the U.S. Nationals and Olympic Team Trials to make the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team. He placed seventh in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ga.

Gutches won all of the major events on the international circuit, including 1999 World Cup, the 1999 Pan American Games and the 1998 Goodwill Games. He also captured five straight U.S. Nationals titles.

Gutches was inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009, and was a James E. Sullivan Award finalist in 1997. He was the 1997 Amateur Wrestling News Man of the Year, as well as Freestyle Wrestler of the Year for USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

He and his wife Jennifer have two young children, Lexi (5) and Logan (2).

"I have been involved in wrestling clubs as a competitor and coach on the local, state and national levels, "said Gutches. "I have seen firsthand what makes a great club. It all comes down to one thing "investment. For coaches, the most important resources they have to invest are their time and expertise. They invest in each of their wrestlers, to help them become the best athletes and individuals that they can. USA Wrestling is committed to investing in the success of its state organizations. We will look at everything, from how we market our programs to the product itself, and how to best serve all of our members. "

Les Gutches: Ahead of His Time

January 4th, 2009 by Tom

At the age of seven, he discovered that his father Les Gutches, Sr. had wrestled by finding some photos and medals in a storage box in their Oregon home.

"When dad came home, he shook the sawdust out of his pants and he started showing me holds. I liked it. I had a lot of energy as a kid. They started taking me to local club practice," said Gutches.

He had an uncle named Kent who was active in wrestling and took him to practice sessions with older wrestlers. When he was eight, Kent brought him to junior high practice. When he was in junior high, he worked out with high school wrestlers. When he was in high school, he was coached by an Olympic wrestler, and even had a number of workouts with an Olympic champion. Although Gutches would get beaten by the older training partners, he continued to learn and get better.

"You are in survival mode that first year," said Gutches. "You learn to wrestle with the guys. You improve and you raise your level. It was the same adaptive process my whole career. Wrestling at the next level before I was actually there helped me make the transition that much sooner."

This was a pattern that followed him throughout his career as he always seemed to be competing at a level higher than his age.

A tough and talented competitor, as well as a true student of the game, Les Gutches achieved great things every step of the way. He reached the pinnacle of international wrestling in 1997, when he won a World gold medal in freestyle wrestling at 85 kg/187.25 lbs. in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. In 2009, he will be enshrined as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

"I remember the day I committed to wrestling," said Gutches. "I was in Wymer, Ore. and was watching Dave and Mark Schultz win the Olympic gold medals at the 1984 Olympic Games. They mentioned their connection to Ashland, Ore. which was nearby. I pictured myself in that situation and decided that was something I'd like to work towards."

When Les was 15 years old, his father woke him up in the middle of the night when their house was on fire, and got the family out to safety. When they had to rebuild after the home was totally destroyed, the Gutches moved to a new community. Les ended up in a different school system, and became a student at South Medford High School.

There he was able to compete for coaches Pete Lucas and 1972 Olympian Sergio Gonzalez. Lucas, who wrestled in college, worked out with Gutches because they were the same size. Gonzalez was also a major influence, teaching Gutches about visualization and relaxation as well as outstanding technique. Gutches won three Oregon state high school titles at South Medford High School

"As a senior in high school, I was also able to wrestle one of my heroes, Mark Schultz," said Gutches. "It was like Godzilla versus Bambi. Although we didn't wrestle that many times, because he beat me so badly, Mark helped me a lot. I learned intensity from Mark Schultz. I never had met anybody with such a laser focus. I was able to see where I needed to be."

Gutches became a star within USA Wrestling's age-group wrestling programs. He was the first to win USA Wrestling national titles on five age-group levels (Cadet, Junior, Espoir, University, Senior). He competed in the World Championships on four age-group levels, as well. He won a Cadet World silver medal in 1989 and an Espoir World bronze medal in 1993.

Gutches had a remarkable career at Oregon State Univ., winning NCAA titles in 1995 and 1996, and placing fifth in the 1994 NCAA Championships. He received the Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation's top college wrestler in 1996 and finished with a 134-10 record. Gutches did not allow an offensive point during his junior year, and allowed just one takedown during his last two years in college.

"Les had an intense desire to learn, work and train with the goal of being a NCAA, World and Olympic champion," said Mark Johnson, a 1980 Olympian who was his first coach at Oregon State. "His credentials and accomplishments are certainly deserving of this recognition. In addition, Les is also an extremely good person, and a great representative of our sport. He is an intelligent, articulate guy who has been a very positive role model throughout his career."

While he was still in college, he was already making waves in international freestyle wrestling. After his junior season, Gutches placed second behind 1992 Olympic champion Kevin Jackson at both the U.S. Nationals and the World Team Trials. But after his senior year, Gutches was able to beat Jackson at the U.S. Nationals and Olympic Team Trials to make the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team. He placed seventh in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ga., his first test on the Senior international scene.

"Kevin was a World champion in 1995. He was somebody you knew would always be a tough opponent. He pushed you to train harder," said Gutches. "In 1996, I under performed at the Olympics. I didn't have the finish I wanted and the USA deserved. That pushed me to be more prepared."

Gutches held off Jackson and other top U.S. competitors to remain No. 1 in the USA for the next three seasons. In 1997, he won his World gold medal in his first World Championships held in Russia, and he added a World bronze medal in 1999.

"It is not easy to win a World title, but to win a World title on Russian soil is an amazing thing," said Bruce Burnett, USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach during Gutches' career. "I was blessed to work with Les on Cadet teams, Junior World team, University teams and on the Senior level. As good a wrestler as he is, he is a better person. He was one of the best technicians we have had, and physically one of the most talented. His mindset and mental toughness raised him above the others."

After Kevin Jackson retired, he became USA Wrestling's National Freestyle Resident Coach and ended up coaching Gutches on the daily basis at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"He was a fierce competitor. He was part of the era that if he knocked me off, he was expected to be a World champion himself. He followed the culture and tradition that had been set for us. Our rivalry and relationship was positive for us both," said Jackson. "Having the opportunity for me to coach him shows his character. He didn't allow our rivalry as athletes to get in his way of reaching his goals. He was a true champion. It was a pleasure working with him and a pleasure competing against him."

In 2000, after winning the U.S. Nationals for the fifth straight year, Gutches injured his back and delayed his Olympic Trials finals series due to the injury. He lost to Charles Burton in a Special Wrestle-off, not able to perform at his best. Gutches retired from competition after that year.

"It is the nature of the sport. Sometimes, you are going to get hurt," said Burnett about the injury which hampered Gutches at the end of his career. "You hope that it is not at the wrong time. For him, it was. You move on. He has a successful career and a great family. Life did not stop for him. He is truly a great ambassador for the sport."

Gutches won all of the major events on the international circuit, including 1999 World Cup, the 1999 Pan American Games and the 1998 Goodwill Games. He won many major awards, including the 1997 Amateur Wrestling News Man of the Year, as well as Freestyle Wrestler of the Year for USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee. He was a finalist for the James E. Sullivan Award in 1997.

All during his career, Gutches was aware of his place in wrestling history. Although he was often ahead of his time, Gutches was also part of a long line of international stars at his weight class.

"That was the nature of being at 180 pounds," said Gutches. "We have a lot of tradition in that weight class. There was John Peterson, Mike Sheets, Dave Schultz and Kevin Jackson. It continued with me and with Cael Sanderson. It was a tough weight class for us in the United States."

Gutches worked for eight years as an assistant wrestling coach at his alma mater Oregon State. He has since pursued a career in business, working now as a commercial lender for Citizen's Bank. He and his wife Jennifer have two young children, Lexi and Logan.

"I am extremely excited to be selected for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame," said Gutches. "It may not be a goal to set out for, but it is the highlight of my wrestling career and something I am proud of. It couldn't have been possible without the support of family and friends."

Gutches inducted into Hall of Fame

December 14th, 2008 by Tom

Oregon State University Sports Information

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Former Oregon State wrestler Les Gutches will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame during honors weekend in Stillwater, June 5-6, announced Thursday.

Gutches will be inducted as a Distinguished Member. He joins seven others in the 33rd class since the Hall of Fame began operations in 1976. He becomes the second Oregon State wrestler to be inducted since Robin Reed in 1978 with former head coach Dale Thomas also being inducted in 1980.

"It's a huge honor, "Gutches said. "When you win a tournament, it's kind of what you've done then and there. But being inducted into the Hall of Fame is a great honor because it encompasses your body of work and what you've done overall as an athlete. Growing up you see all of the people being inducted and have great respect for them. So for the Hall of Fame to look at your work and deem it to be honored like this, it's huge."

Gutches was the first athlete to win USA Wrestling national titles in all five age group levels "Cadet, Junior, Espoir, University and Senior.

At South Medford High School in Oregon, Gutches won three state titles. He was also a district champion in the 400 meters for the track team.

He was a two-time NCAA champion while at Oregon State, wrestling from 1993-96 and compiling a 134-10 career record. He earned the Outstanding Wrestler award at the 1996 NCAA Championships and the Dan Hodge Trophy that same season. Over his final two collegiate seasons he allowed opponents just one takedown.

Gutches quickly made his mark in freestyle, winning the first of his five U.S. Nationals titles in 1996 and also the Olympic Trials title at 180.5 pounds.

In Atlanta, he would finish seventh. However, a year later at the 1997 World Championships in Russia, Gutches would earn a gold medal at 187.25 pounds. He would also earn a bronze medal at the 1999 World Championships.

Gutches currently is a commercial lender for a bank in Corvallis. He spends his free time helping with local high school wrestling programs and is actively involved with the Oregon State wrestling Orange Crush Club. He was inducted into the Oregon State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.