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Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame unveils mural

Four larger-than-life wrestlers -- Dan Gable, Norman Borlaug, Gary Kurdelmeier, and Harold Nichols -- now stand watch on a large, just-completed mural outside the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame in Cresco, Iowa.

The 40-foot by 17-foot mural, painted on the exterior of The Exchange Cresco, features the image of the foursome of wrestlers with deep Iowa roots. Three of the honorees -- Borlaug, Kurdelmeier, and Nichols -- grew up in Cresco, a community of approximately 4,000 residents in northeast Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border. From the 1920s through the 1960s, Cresco produced a number of top-flight wrestlers, including three Olympic wrestlers, nine NCAA champions, seven Iowa state team titles, and 65 individual state champs. (The Cresco wrestling legacy was the subject of a 2008 InterMat Rewind historical feature.) Gable grew up in Waterloo, about an hour straight south of Cresco.

Jim Turvold of the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame's Board of Directors told the Cresco Times, "The board decided who would be on the mural. We simply said we would use who was the most recognizable. Dan Gable was unanimous. He is the most notable."

"Dan Gable is the face of wrestling of the United States, if not the world," Turvold told KAAL-TV. "Dr. Harold Nichols was the coach at Iowa State, who was Gable's coach. Gary Kurdelmeier was the coach who turned the Iowa program around."

Borlaug is known well beyond the wrestling world as the scientist who won the Nobel Prize in 1970 for developing high-yield, disease-resistant wheat that literally saved millions -- if not billions -- of lives worldwide.

Borlaug and Nichols were teammates at Cresco High in the 1930s, then went their separate ways -- Nichols to University of Michigan, Borlaug to University of Minnesota -- only to face each other at least once on the mat in college.

Kurdelmeier was a two-time Iowa state champ for Cresco High in the early 1950s who went on to win NCAA and Big Ten titles at University of Iowa in the late 1950s. When he took the helm of the then-struggling Hawkeye mat program in 1972, Kurdelmeier hired Gable as an assistant coach ... and launched a mat dynasty of individual and team Big Ten and NCAA titles.

The mural, commissioned by the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame, was painted by Robin Macomber, who has done murals all over the United States for about two decades. She has been working on the Cresco mural for the past month. It is expected to last 20-25 years; the artist has promised to touch up the work as needed.

The mural is expected to be dedicated at a future date, when Gable -- the only surviving subject of the painting -- is available.

The Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame was organized in 1970 to promote amateur wrestling in Iowa by honoring native Iowans who wrestled, coached wrestling or otherwise contributed to the sport. (It is a completely independent facility; it is NOT affiliated with the University of Iowa, nor with the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.) Each spring, the facility conducts an annual awards banquet and induction ceremony. Since that inaugural class of 1970, the Hall has welcomed 117 individuals. To learn more about the honorees, wrestling fans can explore the Hall inside the Welcome Center in downtown Cresco, or visit the Hall's website for photos and biographical information.

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