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Schultz, David Lesky (“Dave”)

Schultz, David Lesky (“Dave”)

(b, 6 June 1959 in Palo Alto, California; d. 26 January 1996 in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania), Olympic and collegiate wrestling champion, and worldwide “ambassador” for the sport.

Schultz was one of four children of Philip Gary, a counselor, and Jean St. Germain, a costume designer. As a first grader, he had trouble reading and was not up to the level of other students. Yet, as his father recalled, while the other youngsters were reading their first primers, David was singing “Greensleaves,” the old English folk song, “at the top of his lungs.” Amazingly, the bright six-year-old knew all of the words to the English air.

Larger than most children his age, Schultz compensated for his learning difficulties (later diagnosed as dyslexia) by being tough and intimidating his fellow grade-school pupils. When his contemporaries caught up to him physically, he took up wrestling as a way of maintaining his domination.

Living in Palo Alto, California, Schultz as a high school freshman ventured into the Stanford University wrestling practice facility and told college senior Chris Horpel that he wanted to learn as much as he could about the sport. Horpel was too old, too talented, and too large to engage in any real workout with the fourteen-year-old Schultz, but he was intrigued by how the youngster popped right up after being tossed on his back. Nothing seemed to discourage Schultz. His tenacity and infectious personality captured Horpel, and the college senior forged a friendship with Schultz that would last a lifetime.

Perhaps because of the hard lessons learned from Horpel, Schultz showed promise as a high school wrestler at Palo Alto High School. He won the California state championship at 165 pounds as a senior in 1977, after placing fourth in the state as a sophomore and junior. In fact, Schultz, always a team player, moved up two weight classes to enhance the chances of his Palo Alto squad.

Heavily recruited by colleges, Schultz committed to Oklahoma State. As a 150-pound freshman, he earned All-America status and placed third in the NCAA national championship tournament. Close to his younger brother Mark, also an outstanding wrestler and three-time NCAA champion, Schultz transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where Mark had matriculated. Not long after Schultz arrived on campus, UCLA dropped the sport. Both brothers then went to the University of Oklahoma. After sitting out for a year because of the NCAA’s transfer rule, Schultz resumed his grappling career in 1981 as a 158-pounder. Again he earned All-America honors, again placing third in the nation. As a college senior in 1982, Schultz moved up another weight class to 167 pounds. This move was the culmination of a stellar college career, and Schultz was crowned national champion. The same year—on Valentine’s Day—he married Nancy Lynn Stoffel, a former gymnast at Oklahoma State who transferred to the University of Oklahoma after an injury. The couple had a son and a daughter.

Schultz enjoyed an international reputation. Fluent in seven languages—quite an accomplishment considering his learning disability—he traveled abroad frequently. Successful American wrestlers were known abroad for their strength and stamina, but Schultz did not fit the mold. He was not a great athlete; he simply worked extremely hard, soaking up as much wrestling knowledge as he could. He was so impressed with the skill of Soviet wrestlers that he adopted their style—standing as they stood, moving as they moved. His ability as a communicator won him admirers among international competitors and was especially revered in countries where wrestling is held in high esteem: Bulgaria, Iran, the former Soviet Union, and Turkey.

One of the most prestigious foreign events is the Tbilisi tournament, held in what was then the Soviet republic of Georgia. Schultz twice won an international championship there, whereas no other American grappler had ever won more than one title. He continued to wrestle and win many other international tournaments: eight times he won “open” freestyle titles and twice won Greco-Roman senior national titles.

Schultz’s devotion to the sport continued well past college graduation. In 1984 he won the Olympic trials and the right to represent the United States in the summer Olympics as a welterweight (163 pounds) freestyle wrestler. In Los Angeles he won the coveted Olympic gold medal. The only defending world champion freestyler to take part in the 1984 Olympics, Schultz won his title match by a pin and won five other matches by a combined score of 42–2. A day after his win, his brother Mark also won Olympic gold as a middleweight.

The wrestler continued his training, seeking further Olympic gold, but in both the 1988 and 1992 Olympic trials finals, he lost to Kenny Monday. Yet after Monday won a gold medal at the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea, Schultz came down out of the stands, hoisted him to his shoulders, and paraded him around the mat. It was an act typical of the exuberant Schultz.

Ranked as the nation’s number one 163-pounder in 1995, Schultz coveted a second Olympic gold medal. In the mid-1990s he accepted an invitation to train, with all expenses paid and even a salary, at Foxcatcher, the 800-acre estate of the chemical fortune heir John E. du Pont in suburban Philadelphia. Schultz lived on the grounds with his family. Du Pont, who started, coached, and endowed the wrestling program at nearby Villanova University, was viewed by many as eccentric, and by others as unstable. Friends pleaded with Schultz to leave Foxcatcher as du Pont became more delusional. His old friend Chris Horpel tried to entice him to return to coaching at Stanford—Schultz had also coached at Wisconsin—but Schultz stayed.

One Friday afternoon as Schultz was installing a car radio, Nancy heard gunshots. She rushed outside to see her husband lying mortally wounded in the driveway. Du Pont sat, gun in hand, in his luxury car. He fired another shot into Schultz’s body, then drove away. Du Pont returned home and staged a forty-eight-hour siege before police took him into custody. He was later found innocent of murder charges by reason of insanity (he was said to be disillusioned and to hear voices) and institutionalized. Schultz was cremated and his ashes sent to the family’s Foster City, California, home.

His widow, Nancy, began the Dave Schultz Wrestling Foundation to train wrestlers for international and Olympic competition. Schultz was inducted posthumously into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and his memory is further perpetuated by the Dave Schultz Memorial International Wrestling Tournament.

Dave Schultz became a wrestling icon through dogged determination and a desire to make himself the best wrestler he could be. His Olympic coach Joe Seay summed up Schultz and his influence with these words: “David was the greatest ambassador the sport has ever had.”

There is no biography of Dave Schultz; however, his career and wrestling are touched on in The New York Times Encyclopedia of Sports, edited by Gene Brown (1979); The Olympic Games by Peter Arnold (1984); and The Complete Boo\ of the Olympics by David Wallechinsky (1992). News articles about his murder and its aftermath appeared in the New York Times editions of 27 Jan., 30 Jan., 4 Feb., and 12 Mar. 1996.

Jim Campbell

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