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Peterson, Ben

Published onJul 30, 2021
Peterson, Ben

( June 27, 1950 - )

Quick Facts

Peterson was a prolific Iowa State wrestler who participated in the 1972 Olympics.

University Archives, Iowa State University Library

In an Iowa State wrestling program that boasts iconic names like Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson, a fellow Olympic gold medalist from Comstock, Wisconsin earned his place on the highest station of achievement as one of the great collegiate and international wrestlers of all time, Ben Peterson.

His start was not auspicious. When Peterson was a freshman at Cumberland High School he got pinned seven times, in seven total matches. He grew, and got better. Peterson did not win a Wisconsin prep title. But he progressed to the point that his high school coach took him to the 1968 Olympic Trials in the Armory on the Iowa State campus.

It was there, despite some tough losses, that Peterson caught the eye of Iowa State head coach Harold Nichols. The Hall of Famer coach saw something in the lanky high schooler, even though longtime assistant coach Les Anderson referred to Peterson as, “not a diamond in the rough, more like a piece of coal.”

But Peterson was a worker. By the time he returned for his redshirt freshman season, a beefed up Peterson earned the starting spot at 190 pounds. This was during a zenith era in Iowa State wrestling history, when the Cyclone wrestling room was full of legends like Tom Peckham, Carl Adams, Dave Martin, Jason Smith, Chuck Jean and Dan Gable. It was wrestling the likes of these decorated teammates and a gentle leviathan heavyweight Chris Taylor and Peterson honed his game and steadily progressed into one of the greatest grapplers in Olympic history.

As a sophomore, Peterson beat eventual national champion Geoff Baum of Oklahoma State, 6-0 for his first Big Eight Conference championship. He finished fourth at the 1970 NCAA Championships in Evanston, Ill. as the Iowa Staters claimed the national team crown.

In his junior season, Peterson won a second Big Eight title and advanced to the NCAA Championships, where he prevailed through training to beat Vince Paolano of Syracuse, 11-6 as the Cyclones finished second nationally as a team. En route to another NCAA individual title as a senior, he won the Midlands Tournament and a third Big Eight crown to finish his career with a 52-2 collegiate career record. The Iowa Staters again took home the first-place team trophy.

But his biggest challenges were still in the future.

Peterson (198 pounds) and his brother John (180.5 pounds) had both won their respective 1972 Olympic Freestyle Trials brackets to earn a spot on the U.S. team that would be compete at the Munich Olympic Games.

In a move that would pay major dividends, Ben and John went to train with teammate Dan Gable. The hub of their training during that summer of 1972 would be the Gable home in Waterloo.

In Munich, Ben beat Pavel Kurczewski of Poland (7-4), pinned Raul Garcia of Mexico (8:09) and fought to a draw (2-2) with the former Soviet and world champion Gennadi Strakhov. On the fourth day of the tournament, Ben beat Reza Korrami of Iran, 4-1 and pinned Barbaro Morgan of Cuba.

On the fifth day, Peterson pinned Bulgarian Rusi Petrov. As brother John secured a silver medal by beating Horst Stottmeister of East Germany, he turned to see his brother Ben win that victory by fall at the same moment. Ben Peterson had won the Olympic Gold Medal. A picture of the brother’s joyous embrace was seen all over the world.

Peterson (1972, Architecture) would go on to earn a bronze medal at the 1973 World Championships in Tehran and a gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games in Mexico City. He retired after winning a silver medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

Peterson was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002 and is a member of the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame. He was the head wrestling coach at Maranatha Baptist Bible College for 28 years. He entered his ninth season as an assistant wrestling coach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2020-21. Peterson recently released "Road to Gold", the story of his ascension to two NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal.


University of Wisconsin - Whitewater:

National Wrestling Hall of Fame:

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