InterMat Rewind: Wrestlers at the Trials

Mark Palmer

11/15/2007
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

Every four years, the wrestling world turns its attention to the Olympics, as grapplers from across the planet battle for glory and precious medals.

Jamie Moffatt
Before ever stepping on the mat at the Olympics, wrestlers in the United States must first earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team. This long process culminates with the U.S. Olympic Trials usually held weeks before the Olympic Games.

Author Jamie Moffatt provides wrestling fans with a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at this process of building a U.S. Olympic wrestling team in his brand-new book, Wrestlers at the Trials, published by Exit Zero Publishing, Inc.

This 196-page book covers the U.S. Olympic Trials from 1960 through 1988 by sharing the stories of more than ninety U.S. wrestlers, coaches and officials who participated in these events.

Wrestling fans may recognize Jamie Moffatt as co-author (with Roger Olesen) of A Turning Point, the 2003 book about the 1953 NCAA wrestling championships held at Penn State or for his work as former board chairman of the College Sports Council, a non-profit advocacy group who opposes the enforcement of proportionality aspects of Title IX. He wrestled for The Hill School in Pennsylvania, where he was team captain his senior year, and competed at Cornell University his freshman year. After graduating from Cornell in 1965, Jamie had a successful business career, retiring a few yeas ago as a Management Consulting Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The long road to The Trials

What caused Jamie to write a book about the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials? "I got some nice feedback on my 1953 NCAA book. Frank Bettucci, who I had interviewed for that book (as the 147-pound NCAA champ from Cornell University), told me I should write the story of the 1960 Olympic Trials."

"I gave it considerable thought … There's very minimal coverage of the Trials. No books, and not much media coverage, either. Yet there are interesting stories to share, stories that should be preserved for posterity's sake."

"I originally decided to expand the scope of the book beyond the 1960 Trials, all the way through 2004," Jamie discloses. "I decided to start with 1960 because a number of the wrestlers from earlier Trials have already passed on."

"In November 2005, I went to Colorado Springs to meet with the folks at USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee. I wasn't seeking funding, but was looking for moral support, and access to their records … I got all the encouragement I needed."

"As I started the writing process, for each of the Trials, I looked at the 'box scores' -- the results -- and thought, 'Who would be the people I should contact?' USA Wrestling's Gary Abbott was particularly helpful in making some suggestions for contacts."

Knowing when to close the book

"Until this spring, I was on target to complete a book about the 1960-2004 Trials in time for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials," continues Jamie. As I was starting work on the chapters for the 1988 and 1992 Trials, many of the guys I was interviewing just weren't as passionate as the wrestlers who were involved in earlier Trials, and weren't as available. The older guys have fewer time restraints. Most of them are retired, and have raised their families."

"I also realized that, to finish the book as originally intended, would have been a 60-80 hour-a-week task. I woke up one morning at 2 a.m. with the idea that I should conclude the book at the 1988 Trials."

"I stopped writing in July, so that I could bring the book out at the beginning of the wrestling season."

Making contact

When asked how he gathered information for Wrestlers at the Trials, Jamie Moffatt replies, "I did 95% of the interviews by phone."

"The majority of my time spent was finding people. Jim Scherr (U.S. Olympic Committee chair and 1988 U.S. Olympic freestyle team member) was kind enough to share contact info on wrestlers who competed in the Olympics, though that information was not always kept up-to-date. Wayne Baughman (Olympic wrestler and coach) provided a lot of help."

"I played investigator, using online tools to try to find people."

"Once I made contact (with the wrestlers), I'd explain what I was doing, then say, 'I'll call you back in a week or two' to give them a chance to clear the cobwebs and gather their thoughts," says Jamie.

"When I conducted the interviews, I made sure to ask the wrestlers about how they got started in the sport. I thought that was important information to share with readers."

"I did all the interviews chronologically," Jamie explains. "I did all the interviews for the 1960 Trials, then wrote that chapter, then moved on to the 1964 Trials."

"As I did the interviews on the phone, I'd take notes in my own form of notehand, then type up my notes immediately after, while it was all fresh in my mind."

"For the most part, the guys I talked to were grateful to be asked, and willing to share their stories, with the idea of doing something for the sport."

"One after another, as they told their stories, these guys were very gracious, to me, and, with regards to their fellow competitors," Jamie continues. "Mutual respect is so much a part of this. You can't achieve this level of excellence unless you pay the price. These guys know what the others have been through."

Political intrigues

However, when it comes to talking about referees, coaches or other officials that may have done them wrong, it was another matter. "(Wrestlers) were very open to talk about politics," says Jamie.

Readers of Wrestlers at the Trials who always assumed that "the best man" automatically made the U.S. team and wrestled at the Olympics may be surprised at the backroom politics, territorial favoritism and racial prejudices that sometimes overrode pure mat talent in terms of determining team membership.

In its first chapter, Wrestlers at the Trials presents some allegations of unfairness in the process to determine who would wrestle for the United States at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Some wrestlers from Eastern schools alleged that the coaches and officials were biased towards grapplers with Oklahoma connections.

One example: Cornell University wrestler -- and two-time NCAA champ -- Dave Auble thought he had won the 125.5 lb freestyle slot at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Ames, Iowa which Terry McCann had missed because of an injury. After the Trials, a training camp was held at the University of Oklahoma, hosted by the freestyle coach (and former Sooner head coach) Port Robertson, culminating in a "final wrestle-off."

Here's how Dave Auble describes the situation on page 18 of Wrestlers at the Trials:

1960 U.S. Olympic Trials champions pictured. Note: Only three of the Trials champions made the U.S. Olympic team in 1960. Dave Auble is second from the right (Photo/Amateur Wrestling News)
At the start of the Camp, the coaches laid down the rules for us. They made it very clear -- it would be tough. 1) If anyone leaves the Camp, they are off the team; 2) if anyone brings their family to Camp, thy are off the team; 3) and we had to live in the dorms. Not everyone played by these rules.

McCann left and went home at the end of the first week of Camp. I am not sure why. The coaches came and told me I now had made the final team. Several days later, McCann returned, brings his wife back with him, and moves into a local hotel. Then they told me I had to wrestle him for the team spot. None of this seemed fair to me. After finding out that McCann was staying in a hotel, our coaches went to the Committee and requested that we get a hotel room. They couldn't say 'no' since they gave the okay for McCann to live there, so we moved and got some comfortable nights' sleep at last.

In the first challenge match, I came out charging. He was a lot more experienced than me, caught me coming in and pancaked me to my back for the three-point move. I took him down twice later in the bout but he wisely stayed away from me the rest of the time and beat me. My coaches changed our match strategy for the second bout and told me to wrestle smarter, more cautiously. I did, and scored a takedown with a duck-under in the first period. Terry never scored a point against me. I thought I won and had made the team. However, at the end of the match the referee raised Terry's hand as two of the judges voted for Terry, giving him a split decision. In those days the scores were never posted during the match.


Terry McCann went on to win a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

In the book Dave Auble continues: "I bear no grudges against Terry. I have great admiration for him. We became close friends … But, I do have bitterness towards the Trials administrators and their politics. They took away my deserved opportunity."

Ask author Jamie Moffatt about the political aspect and he says, "There's some similar practices going on even in college wrestle-offs today. A coach may choose the guy who lost in the wrestle-off because he thinks that guy may have a better chance in the upcoming dual."

"As for the (McCann/Auble) situation in 1960, the coaches noted that McCann never lost to the Russians. The Oklahoma people probably thought 'McCann gives us a better chance to win a medal than Auble.'" (Although Terry McCann was a Chicago native and a graduate of the University of Iowa, at the time he lived, worked and worked out in Oklahoma. To read an InterMat Rewind profile about Terry and his brother Fran, click HERE.)

Political infighting wasn't limited to 1960. Arguably the messiest situation was determining who'd wrestle for the U.S. freestyle team at 136.5 lbs for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Wrestlers at the Trials devotes an entire chapter to the Lee Roy Smith-Randy Lewis battle that wound its way into the courts, with each of the major participants telling his side of the story.

Politics aside …

Wrestlers at the Trials isn't all political shenanigans and off-the-mat battles. There are stories that will make wrestling fans smile or even laugh out loud. One of Jamie Moffatt's favorite stories involves Don Behm -- 1968 Olympic silver medallist -- and the free-spirited Rick Sanders, both vying for the 125.5 lb. spot on the 1972 U.S. Olympic freestyle team. Here's how Don Behm told the story in the book:

Don Behm (Photo/Wade Schalles)
I'm cutting weight pretty heavy to get 125.5, as is my finals opponent, Sanders. We are sitting in the steam room together the morning before our final match that will determine which one of us will make the Olympic team. We both hate making weight and we had to be at scratch weight. Sanders all the sudden says, 'Is this a weight-losing contest or a wrestling contest?' We both agree it's all about wrestling and not about cutting weight. He says, 'Okay, let's forget about all this steam-room stuff and not make weight for our match. What are they going to do -- take the third-place guy? I don't think so.'

We leave the steam room and go get something to eat and drink. Coach (Bill) Farrell was having Bill Weick weigh-in each of the wrestlers. After a while we go over to Weick and he asks, 'When do you fellas want to weigh in?' We tell him, 'In a little while' and we go have some more to eat and drink. A couple hours later we see Bill and tell him, 'We're ready now' and take off for the locker room scales. Sanders races into the locker room, jumps on the scales and the needle goes way past 125. I jump on right after him and the needle does the same.

Weick comes walking into the locker room just as I'm jumping off -- and headed to the water cooler as Sanders had just done. Weick asks Sanders, 'Did you make weight?'

'Yep,' says Sanders, guzzling down more water. He looks at me and I say, 'Yeah, he did.' Then he asks me, 'Behm, did you make 125?' 'Yep,' I say and Sanders backs me up.


Despite this steam-room silliness, the two wrestlers took the final match seriously. In the book, Coach Farrell is quoted as saying. "The hardest-fought of all freestyle challenge matches were between Behm and Sanders -- very, very close. No one ever backed up or stalled. They could have gone either way."

Rick Sanders (Photo/Bobby Douglas)
Stan Dziedzic, runner-up at 163 lbs, says of the Behm-Sanders finals match: "It was probably the best wrestling match I've ever seen. Those two were so highly competitive. It was a fantastic match to watch."

Rick Sanders decisioned Don Behm 2-1 to make the team, and earned a silver medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Wrestlers at the Trials is chock-full of fascinating stories about some of the greatest wrestlers of the past 45 years, in the words of the men who experienced these events first-hand. It provides wrestlers, coaches and fans with rich details of on-the-mat action and a unique backstage perspective not normally found in media coverage of U.S. Olympic Trials.

To learn more about Wrestlers at the Trials -- or to purchase a copy -- contact InterMat's Mark Palmer (mark@intermatwrestle.com) and he'll forward your request to book author Jamie Moffatt

NOTE: All photos in this article appear in Wrestlers at the Trials, courtesy of the source listed in that particular photo caption.

Comments

Login or Register to post a comment