Ten years ago, Dave's life was taken in a senseless, bizarre murder that sounds straight out of a really awful movie. Only this was really awful real life.
RevWrestling.com seeks to pay tribute to Dave Schultz with a series of articles that address various aspects of his life and legacy. In this installment, we attempt to paint a picture of Dave Schultz from the perspectives of those who knew him well -- his family and friends -- with memories recorded in 1996, the year that Dave was killed.
How is a great athlete remembered immediately after he or she dies?
No matter the sport, it seems most obituaries focus on the athletic accomplishments championships earned, won/loss records, and other statistical achievements.
Dave SchultzIn the case of David L. Schultz, the write-ups and remembrances immediately after his murder included his achievements on the mat, including his 1977 California high school state title, a 1982 NCAA championship, and 1984 Olympic gold medal.
Yet, despite all these accomplishments, when those who truly knew Dave Schultz are asked "What do you remember about Dave?" they usually focused on the man, not the awards and titles gained as a wrestler.
This was true in the press statement issued by USA Wrestling issued the day after Dave's murder on January 26, 1996 by executive director Jim Scherr:
"USA Wrestling is deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Dave Schultz, one of the great athletes and individuals ever involved in the sport of wrestling.
"We have truly lost a giant, an ambassador of goodwill around the world. Few people have made such an impact on the sport as Dave. His legacy will encompass much more than the numerous medals and honors which he won on the mat.
"The record books will forever tell the story of Dave's excellence as a wrestler. A 1984 Olympic gold medal, a 1983 World title, plus a Goodwill Games title, a Pan American Games title, four World Cup titles and ten national titles. He was truly one of the best ever to lace up a pair of wrestling shoes.
"But what records won't tell you is the kind of person Dave was and impact he made on all of us in wrestling. There literally wasn't a wrestler Dave wasn't willing to help. He had a profound impact on virtually all of the elite athletes in the US the last fifteen years, as a competitor, coach and friend. He will be irreplaceable among the wrestling community. He touched the lives of thousands of people, all who were enriched by his spirit.
"He shared his love and enthusiasm for wrestling with everybody that he met. Through his unique personality, he made friends wherever he traveled and was loved by wrestling fans here in the United States and all over the world."
A couple weeks later, at a memorial service for Dave held in mid-February 1996, then-president of USA Wrestling, Larry Sciacchetano, said, "I've heard the term larger than life' a thousand times. I've never really understood what it meant, how someone could be larger than life, until now.
"Dave Schultz was larger than life.
"His accomplishments in life were monumental. He was a great husband and father, a loving brother and son. He achieved all there was to achieve in wrestling, and he was a great friend to his teammates and anyone who knew him.
"We are here today because he lives on through our memory of those things and he will be with us forever.
"Dave was a truly unique person. He was one of those rare people who seem to have ten thousand best friends. Most people are lucky to have one or two best friends in their lifetime but for Dave it was different. He made everyone feel important. When you were with him, he was genuinely interested in you, in what you were doing in your life, and how he could help.
It never mattered to Dave who you were, or how important you were. His friendship was always sincere…"
"The world of wrestling is diminished without him. It's diminished in Ulan Bator. It's diminished in Tbilisi and Budapest. In Krasnoyarsk and Istanbul and Tehran. It's diminished wherever men and women of the sport will be deprived of his performance, his instruction, his great sense of humor, and his friendship…"
"I'll always remember Dave as humble in victory, gracious in defeat, and forever a best friend."
Within days of the murder, top wrestlers and coaches weighed in with their thoughts on Dave Schultz.
Four-time Olympic medalist Bruce Baumgartner: "He's the most unselfish and giving person I have known. Obviously, Dave was one of the best technical and strategic wrestlers and one of the best coaches. I have heard from so many of his students who loved him, from the high school level to the international arena. Dave was always upbeat and positive, with a smile on his face."
Kurt Angle, 1995 World Champion who went on to win the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics months after Dave's death: "Dave was the godfather of USA Wrestling, contributing as a coach, a leader, and an athlete. He cared about everyone, and always put people first, no matter who you were… I loved him and respected him."
Three-time World Champion Kevin Jackson: "Dave had the greatest technical mind of any wrestler. He would go out of his way to help all athletes…. If it was not wrestling related, Dave would still help you out. He stuck with you during the tough times. He's a great person to be around."
Matt Demaray, four-time US Nationals champ: "Dave was the kind of person that was always smiling and always willing to help out a friend. You would always see him walking around, talking to everyone at competitions, offering advice.
"In my mind, Dave was the most knowledgeable wrestler ever in the sport."
Iowa State head coach Bobby Douglas: "Dave was the renaissance of wrestling, and we have all lost a great friend. His loyalty to the sport of wrestling, and to his family, his teammates, his colleagues and his students was unmatched… American wrestling has lost a great athlete. America has lost a great person."
John Smith, head coach at Oklahoma State: "(Dave) was the single most important person in the 80s for freestyle wrestling. He really took us to the next level."
Ed Giese, a teammate and long-time friend, summed it all up by saying, "Dave was wrestling. He revolutionized the sport."
A half-year after Dave's death, his absence from the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta was profound -- and powerful. It was the subject of articles in the non-wrestling media, and even merited a multi-page story by famed columnist Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated, a magazine not known for its coverage of the sport.
And, even though he didn't wrestle a single match at the Centennial Olympics, Dave made his presence felt on NBC, the official broadcast network of the 1996 Summer Games.
Kurt AngleKurt Angle paid tribute to Dave Schultz not once, but twice on TV.
The first time the former Team Foxcatcher light-heavyweight mentioned the late wrestler's name was in a matside interview immediately after winning the gold medal in a suspenseful match determined by a referee's decision. When asked by the NBC reporter about his thoughts as he knelt on the mat after the winning verdict, Angle mentioned Dave Schultz' name immediately after that of his late, beloved father -- and before other relatives -- as among those who are "always with me, looking down on me."
Later that night, in a studio interview, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas asked Angle about Dave Schultz. He responded, "It was a tragic ending for someone with a brilliant career. He was my mentor and idol. I did whatever he did he was someone I looked up to and I wanted to be like him."
Later in the same interview, when asked to comment on the wrestling community's reaction to the loss of his long-time coach and friend, Angle replied, "Everyone was in shock at first because it's hard to fathom -- Dave Schultz will never wrestle again. He was one of the best wrestlers in the US in the history of it. He had some more years in front of him so it was hard for everyone to accept. Dave's memory will always be with us. I don't think anybody could forget about him. He's definitely in my heart and will always be in my heart and watching over me, too."
NBC also devoted nearly seven minutes of airtime for a separate tribute to Dave Schultz.
Today show host Katie Couric set up the pre-recorded piece with this opening statement: "When Dave Schultz died, wrestler lost one of its finest ambassadors, the US team lost a world champion and respected team leader, Danielle and Alexander lost their adored father, and Nancy Schultz lost her beloved husband of 14 years."
Even without the lush, romantic-movie soundtrack and soft-focus video of Dave Schultz off the mat -- riding a tricycle with his kids or putting wedding cake in the mouth of his brand-new bride Nancy -- the tribute was genuinely moving as it shared the heartfelt remembrances of those who knew Dave best -- his family.
The tribute opened with Dave's father Philip saying, "I considered myself to be among his 10,000 best friends, and he was my best friend, as my son."
Dave's younger brother Mark followed up with, "He made the most of his life. He lived the life of ten men in his short life."
Then it was Dave's son Alexander, nine years old at the time, shown holding his father's gold medal around his neck, fingering the ribbon: "If I won a baseball game, he'd rather talk about that than the Olympics."
Dave Schultz and Mark SchultzMark Schultz appeared onscreen again: "Dave enjoyed everything about the wrestling -- the traveling, the camaraderie, the socializing with the Russians, the Iranians, and all the wrestlers from all over the world. He just loved being around the wrestlers.
"He was Mister Wrestling."
A bit later in the tribute, his brother -- who also won a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics -- said, "He created Mark Schultz. He was the greatest influence on me. He made me who I am."
Dave's dad: "The journey was a remarkable legacy. Remarkable for every one of us. I will miss loving him."
Towards the end of the videotaped tribute, Nancy Schultz said, "Alexander told me that he missed dad a lot … but then said 'aren't we lucky he was our dad?'"
"To be his best friend, his wife and the mother of his children -- a special role to play that I can't compare with anything else in the world."
Chapter 4: Friends share lighter memories and personal experiences with Dave Schultz
Did you know Dave Schultz? If you have stories to share, please email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chapter 1: The Day Wrestling Died
Chapter 2: The Murderer, John du Pont
Chapter 3: Immediate Memories of Dave
Chapter 4: Smiling Back at a Life Remembered
Chapter 5: A Spirit That Lives On
Wrestling Resume for David L. Schultz
Among the accomplishments in Dave Schultz' long wrestling career:
1977 California state champion for Palo Alto High School
Outstanding wrestler 1977 California high school state championships
1977 Senior National title in Greco-Roman at the AAU Nationals (while still in high school)
1977 Pan American Games Greco-Roman champion
1982 NCAA champion for the University of Oklahoma at 167 lbs
Three-time NCAA All-American (placing 3rd at 150 lbs for Oklahoma State in 1978; 2nd at 167 for Oklahoma in 1981)
1983 Senior Freestyle World champion at 163
1984 Olympic gold medal in freestyle at 74 kg/163 lb
1987 Pan American Games freestyle champion
1986 Goodwill Games gold medalist
1994 Goodwill Games silver medalist
Three-time World silver medalist (1985, 1987, 1993)
Two-time World bronze medalist (1982, 1986)
Five-time World Cup champion (1980, 1982, 1985, 1994, 1995)
Three-time World Cup silver medalist (1978, 1981, 1983)
Two-time Tbilisi Tournament champion (1984, 1991)
Three-time DeGlane Challenge champion (1983, 1990, 1991)
Ten-time Senior Nationals champ in both freestyle and Greco-Roman
Outstanding wrestler at US Nationals 1984, 1987 and 1993
Assistant wrestling coach for University of Oklahoma, Stanford University, and University of Wisconsin -- Madison
Wrestling coach for Team Foxcatcher