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Gable, Dan

Published onJul 30, 2021
Gable, Dan

(October 25, 1948 - )

Quick Facts

Gable, a ‘72 Olympic gold medalist, was a two-time NCAA National Wrestling Champion and three-time All-American and three-time Big Eight champion. He set NCAA records in winning and pin streaks.

Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

During his prep and college wrestling careers, Dan Gable compiled an unbelievable record of 181-1. He was undefeated in 64 prep matches, and was 117-1 at Iowa State University. His only defeat came in the NCAA finals his senior year.

Gable grew up in Waterloo, where he wrestled at West High School under Hall of Fame coach Bob Siddens. Gable then moved on to Iowa State where he matured under the watchful eye of another Cyclone legend, head coach Harold Nichols.

Collegiate freshmen were not eligible in 1966 when Gable entered Iowa State. Nevertheless, he fashioned a 17-0 record competing unattached. Included in that season was an amazing run through the Midlands Championships that culminated in an 8-3 win over Masaaki Hatta of the Michigan Wrestling Club.

The 1968-69 season marked Gable’s official collegiate debut. His sophomore campaign wrought a 30-0 record that included 25 straight pins, an NCAA record. He captured his first Big Eight title. At the 1968 NCAA Championships in State College, Pa., Gable pinned three opponents, captured a major decision and then beat Oklahoma’s Dave McGuire, 8-2 for his first NCAA individual title. Iowa State finished second as a team.

As Gable’s junior season (1968-69) progressed his legend was morphing from a state of Iowa phenom into a story of national import. He won a second Midlands crown, pinning every opponent. The victories by fall continued unabated through the Big Eight Tournament and in the NCAA Tournament. In the 137-pound NCAA final in Provo, Utah, he pinned Hofstra’s Marty Willigan in 4:17 for his second individual national collegiate crown. By now, his combined prep and college record stood at 149-0.

Gable won the first 33 matches of his senior season as fans in the ISU Armory hung from the rafters. Only two of those foes did not succumb with their shoulder blades flattened against the mat. When Gable took center stage at McGaw Hall on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., his combined high school and collegiate record stood at 182-0. His opponent was Washington’s Larry Owings, who had cut down to make the 142-pound bracket and openly expressed his desire to meet and beat Gable, was doubted by everyone but his coach.

Owings prevailed 13-11 before a stunned crowd. Iowa State won its second straight national team title, but the entire team found it hard to celebrate. But this loss was not the end. It was just the beginning.

After college, Gable added titles at the 1971 Pan American Games in Cali, Columbia and World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria and in 1972 the Soviet Union’s famed Tbilisi Tournament in Tblisi, Georgia. He won an unprecedented six Midlands Open championships and was that meet’s outstanding wrestler five times.

Gable won a Gold Medal at famed 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich Germany without surrendering a single point. The Soviets came to the Olympics with only one goal in mind: to defeat Gable. They were unsuccessful. In Gable’s final 21 Olympic qualification and Olympic matches, he scored 12 falls and outscored his nine other opponents, 130-1.

Gable joined the University of Iowa coaching staff in 1972, assisting head coach and Hall of Famer Gary Kurdelmeier until taking over the program in 1976.

As the University of Iowa’s all-time winningest coach from 1976 to 1997, Gable won 15 NCAA National Wrestling Team Titles while compiling a career record of 355-21-5, He coached 152 All-Americans, 45 National Champions, 106 Big Ten Champions and 12 Olympians, including four gold, one silver and three bronze medalists. The Hawkeyes won 25 consecutive Big Ten championships, 21 under Gable as head coach and four while he was an assistant coach and administrator. He had a winning percentage of .932 and captured nine consecutive (1978-86) NCAA Championships. At the time that equaled the longest streak of national titles won by any school in any sport, and is also held by Yale golf (1905-13) and Southern Cal track (1935-43).

Gable has coached many United States teams in International Freestyle competition. He is a three-time Olympic head coach (1980, 1984 and 2000). The 1984 Olympic team, which featured four Hawkeyes, won seven gold medals. He was an assistant freestyle coach at the 1976 and 1988 Olympics. Gable also served as head coach of the World Team in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1994 and 1999, as well as 10 World Cup teams winning three team golds in the World Cup competition. Gable also coached the US team to a bronze medal at the 1986 Goodwill Games, and has led several all-star teams to Europe and the Soviet Union.

Gable, a charter member of the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame, has been named to several other Halls of Fame including but not limited to the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame, the US Olympic Hall of Fame, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Stillwater, Okla. and is the name sake of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa. He was selected the nation’s outstanding wrestler by the AAU in 1970, and the US Wrestling Federation in 1971. Gable was the Amateur Wrestling News “Man of the Year” in 1970.

The Iowa State achievements of Dan Gable and his Olympic and coaching success were of such unprecedented nature that his very name transcended the sport that made him famous. The glow of his accomplishments were celebrated the American culture of athletic competition and made him a symbol of relentless focus toward achieving personal goals and accepting personal accolades with uncommon grace. The scale of his achievements were appreciated far beyond the sports scene.

“I’m a big believer in starting with high standards and raising them. We make progress only when we push ourselves to the highest level. If we don’t progress, we backslide into bad habits, laziness and poor attitude.” ~Dan Gable

Gable resides in Iowa City with his wife Kathy and has four daughters, Jenni Mitchell, Annie Gavin, Molly Olszta and Mackenzie McCord.

In 2020, Gable was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Donald Trump. He is the first athlete and coach from the sport of wrestling to receive this distinguished honor.

Selected Sources

ISU Library, Cardinal Tales, blog “Wrestling Champion Dan Gable Video now available online”

Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame, Dan Gable entry:

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