WORTHINGTON - An Olympic wrestling champion and legendary coach, Dan Gable is still regarded by many as the greatest athlete to ever come out of the state of Iowa. The Waterloo native - today’s King Turkey Day speaker (Saturday, Sept. 19) - met admirers at Minnesota West Community and Technical College Friday night, signed copies of his book, “Dan Gable: A Wrestling Life” and later made a presentation in the gymnasium.
Gable, who earned his Olympic crown at the 1972 Olympiad in Munich, Germany, while not giving up a single point, was talkative with fans and was especially happy to talk about the obsession of his life - wrestling. Introduced to two Texas visitors before being escorted to a table to sign books, he quickly engaged the southerners in a discussion of Texas wrestling.
Though Gable retired from active coaching in 1997 after leading the University of Iowa to 15 national championships, he remains a devoted wrestling supporter. That was important Friday night to wrestling enthusiasts assembled at the Minnesota West gym.
“I hope this kind of gets the fire burning in this area for wrestling,” said Bryan Hagen, a former Worthington High School wrestling standout and member of the Worthington Youth Wrestling Association.
Hagen admitted that many younger generation wrestlers might have grown up relatively unaware of Gable’s greatness. Minnesota West provost Jeff Williamson, in fact, said he recently asked a dozen adults at the college if they knew who Gable is, and he said only one of them - a Sibley, Iowa, native - knew.
Still, those who love wrestling were hoping Gable’s presence would make a lasting impact.
“He probably still is the most famous college wrestling coach that ever was,” said former WHS head mat coach Dave Cummings, who grew up in Cresco, Iowa. “One of the most intense wrestlers I’ve ever seen. Tremendous, tremendous competitor. And a great ambassador for the sport.”
Mark Prunty, the current WHS head wrestling coach, was also in attendance Friday night. He said he remembers that as a third-grader he watched Gable coach the U of Iowa at the NCAA tournament “back in the days when everybody was chasing Iowa.”
Prunty was slightly disappointed that many of his own wrestlers weren’t able to see Gable Friday night.
“Most of our team are football players. So that’s the downside. A lot of them are up in Marshall right now,” he said.