Amateur freestyle wrestler Bruce Baumgartner won the U.S. national championship seventeen times in as many years. An eight-time Midlands Champion, he medalled at four Olympic Games, from 1984-96, earning gold medals in two. After winning the World Cup Championship in 1997 for the eighth time, he retired from competition. In 2002 Baumgartner was named to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Bruce Robert Baumgartner was born on November 2, 1960, the second son of Robert Sr., a diesel mechanic, and Lois Baumgartner of Haledon, New Jersey. A late bloomer by some standards, Baumgartner was a humdrum athlete and an unimpressive student at Haledon's Manchester Regional High School. As a child he was not much interested in watching television and was too large to play peewee football. Disinterested in Little League, he finally turned to wrestling for lack of other options. At 190 pounds in the ninth grade, his exceptional size worked to his advantage on the mats, and by senior year he had progressed to third place in the statewide freestyle wrestling standings.
Because wrestling is not a lucrative sport, Baumgartner had little trouble dodging college recruiters and their scholarship offers. Free to choose any college, he enrolled at Indiana State University (ISU) at Terre Haute in 1978, where he joined the wrestling team and competed for four years of college. By his senior year, he had suffered only twelve losses over four seasons, for a won-loss record of 134-12 matches. He earned his first of seventeen U.S. national freestyle titles in 1980.
In addition to winning his second national title in 1981, Baumgartner prevailed internationally at the World University Games in Bucharest, Romania. 1981 proved to be a landmark year for Baumgartner when he lost to Dan Cook, at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championship. The loss was significant because it would be the last time Baumgartner would realize defeat at the hands of an American for the duration of his seventeen-year wrestling career.
In 1982 as a senior in college, Baumgartner won the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) heavyweight wrestling championship after an undefeated season of 44-0. Furthermore, having won the Midland Tournament Championships in Chicago in 1980 and again in 1981, he went on to repeat that victory seven times over, winning consecutive Midland titles every year through 1987.
While proving himself as an outstanding athlete, Baumgartner sharpened his academic skills, earning a B.S. in 1982 with a 3.77 average. He won a spot on the World Team that year and moved from Indiana to Oklahoma where from 1982-84 he worked as a graduate assistant wrestling coach at Oklahoma State University.
After winning three silver medals a one bronze in international competition in 1983, Baumgartner sought the gold in 1984. He won the AAU nationals, the World Cup, and a gold medal at the Tiblisi Tournament in the former Soviet Union. He earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team also that year, winning a gold medal at the games in Los Angeles. Baumgartner's Olympic gold medal was a national milestone at that time—a first-ever accomplishment for a U.S. wrestler.
Armed with a master's degree from Oklahoma State, in 1984 Baumgartner moved to Pennsylvania where he settled into a paid position as a wrestling coach at Edinboro University. With limited funding from USA Wrestling, the New York Athletic Club, and an athletic shoe manufacturer, he continued to train and compete. By the time the Olympics came around in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988, Baumgartner had prevailed in a second and third World Cup in 1985 and 1986 respectively. He took a bronze at the 1987 World Championship, and a silver at the World Cup in 1988. Also in 1987 he won an unprecedented eighth consecutive Midlands Championship.
Winning everything—and winning all the time—Baumgartner's unbroken string of victories at the national freestyle championship would endure from 1980-96. For good measure he won gold medals at the World Superchampionships in Tokyo in 1985, at the Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986, and at the Pan American Games in 1987. Although he missed the gold at Seoul, he returned from his second Olympic competition with a very respectable silver medal.
Most significant in the mid 1980s was his gold medal win at the World Championships in Budapest. There, Baumgartner prevailed over the Russian David Gobedjichvili and became the first American to win a gold medal at the World Amateur Heavyweight competition. Although the tables turned at the Seoul Olympics when Baumgartner settled for silver while Gobedjichvili took the gold, Baumgartner's revenge would come at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where he defeated Gobedjichvili for the gold. Baumgartner, in fact, at Barcelona became the first American wrestler to win medals in three Olympic competitions.
In 1993 Baumgartner entered his fourteenth year of competition since winning the national finals for the first time. That year he won a gold medal for the second time at the World Amateur Heavyweight competition. He won his fifteenth national title in 1994 and took a gold medal in the World Championships again in 1995. That year he slowed his pace to undergo surgery to his left shoulder to repair a torn rotator cuff.
Baumgartner, who was nominated for the AAU's James E. Sullivan Award in 1986, and from 1992-94, captured the elusive honor on a fifth nomination in 1995. He bested an impressive field of competition for the award that year, including golfer Tiger Woods . Baumgartner was only the second wrestler to receive the Sullivan since its inception in 1930.
At his fourth Olympic competition, in Atlanta in 1996, Baumgartner was named U.S. team captain and carried the national flag into the ceremonies. He returned from the games with a bronze medal that year, thus joining an elite field of only four other U.S. athletes who had won medals at four different Olympic competitions.
|1960||Born November 2 in Haledon, New Jersey|
|1978||Graduates from Manchester Regional High School|
|1978||Enrolls at ISU at Terre Haute|
|1980||Is named as an alternate to the Olympic team|
|1980-81||Achieves runner-up at NCAA Division I heavyweight finals|
|1982||Concludes collegiate career with a 134-12 record and 73 pins;|
|is named to the World Team; earns a B.S. degree in industrial arts education; marries Linda Hochman on June 6.|
|1982-84||Attends Oklahoma State University as a graduate assistant wrestling coach|
|1984||Earns an M.S. degree in industrial arts education|
|1984-97||Serves as wrestling coach (later head wrestling coach) at Edinboro University|
|1996||Is named captain and flag bearer of U.S. Olympic team|
|1997||Retires from amateur competition|
|1998||Is named athletic director at Edinboro University|
Awards and Accomplishments
|First United States wrestler to win three Olympic medals. One of only five U.S. athletes to win medals at four Olympic competitions.|
|1980||Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1980-96||National Freestyle Champion|
|1981||World University Champion; Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1982||National College Athletic Association Division I champion, heavyweight; Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1983||Bronze medal at the World Championships; silver at the World Cup Championships; silver at Tiblisi Tournament; silver at Pan-American Games; Sports Festival Champion; Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1984||Gold medal at the Olympic games; gold medal at Tiblisi Tournament; won Amateur Athletic Union National Championship; Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1984-86, 1989-91, 1994, 1997||Won World Cup|
|1985||Gold medal at World Superchampionships; bronze at World Championships; silver at Tiblisi Tournament; Sports Festival Champion (Baton Rouge, Louisiana); Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1986||Won World Championship; gold medal at Goodwill Games; Sports Festival Champion (Chapel Hill, North Carolina); Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1987||Bronze medal at World Championships; gold at Pan-American Games; Midlands Tournament Champion|
|1988||Silver medal at the Olympic games; silver at World Cup Championships; Pan-American Champion|
|1989||Pan-American Champion; silver medal at World Championships; won World Wrestling Grand Championship|
|1990||Silver medal at Goodwill Games; silver at World Championship; Grand Masters Champion|
|1991||Gold medal at Pan-American Games|
|1992||Gold medal at the Olympic games; won U.S. Grand Prix Championship|
|1993||Won World Championship; won U.S. Grand Prix Championship; silver medal at World Cup|
|1994||Bronze medal at Goodwill Games; silver at World Championship|
|1995||Won World Championship; gold medal at Pan-American Games; won silver at World Cup; won James E. Sullivan Award|
|1996||Bronze medal at the Olympic games|
|2000||Named a Legend of the Century by the New York Athletic Club|
|2001||Inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in New Jersey|
|2002||Inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum|
In 1997, after winning his eighth World Cup Championship, Baumgartner retired from competition. He was named to the Sports Hall of Fame in New Jersey in 2001 and was enshrined at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as a member of the inaugural class of 2002. Since 1988 Baumgartner has served as athletic director at Edinboro University where his wife, the former Linda Hochman, is also on staff as a sports trainer. In 2000 Baumgartner was honored as a Legend of the Century by the New York Athletic Club.
At 6-feet-2-inches tall and 286 pounds Baumgartner's physical strength is anchored largely in his 18-inch biceps and 52-inch chest. Regardless, his training partners and opponents counter that mental fortitude, maturity, and introspection have played a significant role toward the longevity and magnitude of his amateur career.
"Bruce Baumgartner." Contemporary Newsmakers 1987, Issue Cumulation. Detroit: Gale Group, 1988.
Christian Science Monitor (March 8, 1996): 13.
Christian Science Monitor (July 23, 1996): 12.
Sports Illustrated (October 20, 1986): 78.
Sports Illustrated (July 22, 1997): 118.
Time (Summer 96 Special Issue): 80.
Sketch by G. Cooksey