Gable, Dan

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Dan Gable


American wrestler

America's greatest wrestler, Dan Gable was an Olympic medallist, an outstanding college wrestler and a tremendously successful college coach. He is an incredible example of determination and drive. A tireless proponent of wrestling, it's hard to measure just where Gable's impact in the sport of wrestling ends. It's everywherewhether it's what he accomplished as a player or as a coach, or, currently, as a tireless proponent of the sport.

Growing Up

Danny Mack Gable was born in Waterloo, Iowa, on October 25, 1948, to Mack Gable, a real estate salesman, and Katie Gable. The small town of Waterloo was predominately a farming community, but among the cornstalks in the quiet places of Iowa lingers some of the best wrestling in America.

He didn't discover wrestling early, like most kids today, who enter the sport at four or five, competing on the weekends in highly charged meets. For Gable, swimming was the first arena in which he found success. At the age of twelve he was the state YMCA back-stroke champion. When he entered junior high, however, the school had no swimming program, so Gable played football and baseballand, he wrestled.

The night of his first loss on the mat was preceded by a day of heavy snow in Waterloo. Gable was so upset by the loss that he locked himself in his room, emerging later without speaking. He went out and shoveled the driveway until it was clean (faster, it's been said, than a snowblower could have done it). When he came back inside, he vowed never to lose another match in high school. He went on to win sixty-four straight matches.

The College Tradition

When Gable graduated from high school, Bob Buzzard, one of the older wrestlers Gable admired, was in town for

the weekend from Iowa State University. Gable invited Buzzard over to work out on a mat he had set up in his basement. Gable, with no reason to think he could lose after such superb high school career, was beaten very badly. Gable never conceived that he could be defeated that easily, and realized that being a three-time state champion was not going to be enough to cut it in big time wrestling.

Gable chose Iowa State University for several reasons. Among them: it was close to home and it had a big-time program. The school suited his needs, and Iowa was the land where wrestling stars were made. Upon entering college, Gable already had a reputationeven among wrestlersas someone who pushed well beyond the norm. In a sport where a fanatical and religious devotion is the norm, where jogging when it's hot out while wearing trashbags under your sweatsuit, or eating ice chips for dinner in order to make weight can be routine, Gable would often push even further, training for six to seven hours a day. It was said that he showed up in his class with ankle weights on, squeezing hand trainers so he could get in as much of a workout as possible.

The Worst Sort of Motivation

In 1964 a neighbor raped and killed Gable's 19-year old sister, Diane. Gable was fifteen, and his parents wanted to sell the house and move. Gable, however, didn't want to relocate. He claimed that the murderer wasn't going to take their house. He was already a young man with an almost complete focus on wrestling, and the death of his sister and the emotional turmoil it caused pushed him to work even harder. He submerged himself in his sport.

Gable spent his sophomore year at an Olympic tryout camp with Rick Sanders of Portland State. Here is where the strongest weapon of Gable's wrestling career showed up. Sanders introduced Gable to arm bars to pin his opponents. After that, Gable pinned sixty of the last sixty-five opponents he faced in college, and he would not lose a match until he faced Larry Owings of the University of Washington in the NCAA finals his senior year. As a college wrestler, Gable amassed an outstanding record of 138-1, which included three NCAA championship titles. Gable would get another chance to wrestle Owings during the 1972 Olympic trials. Gable beat him handily, 7-1.

Olympic Gold and Coaching

At the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Gable won gold in the lightweight class (149 1/2 pound) wrestling division. It was a dominating performance that has passed into legend. In a match with six opponents, and in a much publicized event wherein the Russian team vowed to find a challenger who would take Gable down, Gable ended up beating all six opponents, not once allowing them to score even one point off of him.

When he left the Olympic arena, Gable took an assistant coaching position under Gary Kurdelmeier at the University of Iowa. Together, these teams produced national championships in 1975 and 1976. Gable eventually took over the program from Kurdelmeier, and after finishing third in the country in his first year, Iowa went on to win nine consecutive national titles.

Numbers Speak for Themselves

Gable, as both wrestler and coach, has amassed some of the most amazing numbers in the sport, unparalleled in terms of athletic competition today. He was known in his time as the Babe Ruth of Wrestling, and today his utter dominance might be more closely allied with other athletes who compete individually, such as Tiger Woods . During his prep and college careers, Gable compiled the outstanding record of 182-1, winning 99 straight matches at Iowa State. He also won six Midlands Open Championships, and he was that meet's outstanding wrestler five times (he set NCAA records in winning and pin streaks).


1948Born October 25 in Waterloo, Iowa, to Mack and Katie Gable
1960Wins YMCA backstroke championship
1962Suffers first loss in wrestling
1964Shattered when learns his sister was raped and murdered. Uses it as motivating force in his life
1968Enters into college career, one of most successful ever, at Waterloo West and Iowa State
1972Wins Gold Medal for the United States in the Olympics
1974Marries Kathy Carpenter
1974Asked by Gary Kurdelmeier at Iowa to be assistant coach
1977Leads Iowa Hawkeyes to Big Ten Championship in first season as head coach
1979Coaches Hawkeyes to first ever undefeated and untied season (19-0-0)
1980Asked to coach Olympic team
1980Honored with induction into the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame
1984Coaches the 1984 U.S. wrestling team at Olympic games in Los Angeles. His wrestlers win seven gold and two silver medals
1985Coaches second perfect season at Iowa (18-0-0)
1985Enters U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame
1986Leads U.S. team to bronze medal at 1986 Goodwill Games
1992Coaches third perfect season
1997Announces retirement from coaching
1997Undergoes hip replacement surgery
1999Airing of Dan Gable documentary on HBO, Freestyle: The Victories of Dan Gable
2001Considers running for Governor of Iowa, but decides not to

Awards and Accomplishments

1960-71U.S. freestyle champion
1964-66Iowa State High School Champion
1968-70NCAA Champion
1971U.S. Pan-American Games gold medallist
1971World Championships gold medallist
1972U.S. Olympic gold medallist
1977-97Big Ten Championship Team coach
1978-86, 1991-93, 1995-97NCAA Championship Team coach
1980Inducted into National Wrestling Hall of Fame
1980Amateur Athletic Union Wrestling Coach of the Year
1984U.S. Olympic Team coach
1985Inducted into U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame

As a coach he may be even more impressive, becoming the University of Iowa's all-time winningest coach during his tenure from 1977 to 1997. He compiled a career record of 355-21-5 while at the school, coaching 152 All-Americans, 45 national champions, 106 Big Ten Champions, and 10 Olympians (including four gold medallists). There is no getting around his almost unequivocal influence in the modern era. And, his wrestlers loved him. As a coach, Gable kept in shape with his students. He told American Health that, "I need to be able to teach [my team] new techniques, and there's nothing like being able to demonstrate to them hands-on. Staying in shape is a real good example of the dedication wrestlers need, too."

Gable's approach to wrestling, to coaching, and to life was brought to the small screen in a 1999 HBO documentary, Freestyle: The Victories of Dan Gable. Dan's desire to have the film made was due in part because he feels wrestling needs more publicity, especially since in the wake of Title IX, many colleges let their wrestling programs fold rather than adding another sport (Title IX is the legislation passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination in sports due to gender).

Gable has said that, "To coach someone to be the best is a much higher honor than being the best." Dan Gable knew what both were like, and he passed his legacy on to more people than can possibly be imagined.


Phone: 319-631-3429. Email: [email protected]. On-line:


(With James A. Peterson, Ph.D.) Conditioning for Wrestling: The Iowa Way, Leisure Press, 1980.

Where Is He Now?

In 1974, Gable married Kathy Carpenter, and together they had four daughters: Jennifer, Annie, Molly and Mackenzie. Today, at 53, Gable has finally learned to relax a bit. But not much. Gable's definition of relaxation is what most people might consider the hardest work of their lives.

He has had to slow down because his knees began hurting him if he ran too much, and the years of wrestling took their toll on his body. He has had two hip replacement surgeries and eight knee surgeries, as well as five hip surgeries to remove scar tissue.

"You have to be able to adapt as you get older," he says in American Health. After stepping down as the University of Iowa's Assistant Athletic Director. Gable continued his efforts as a champion of wrestling the world over.

Coaching Wrestling Successfully, Human Kinetics, 1999.



Chapman, Mike. A History of Wrestling in Iowa: From Gotch to Gable. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 1981.

"Dan Gable." Great Athletes, vol. 3, Farrell-Holdsclaw. Hackensack, N.J.: Salem Press, Inc. 899-901.

Gable, Dan. Coaching Wrestling Successfully. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999.

Gable, Dan (with James A. Peterson, Ph.D.). Conditioning for Wrestling: The Iowa Way. West Point, NY: Leisure Press, 1980.

Holland, Steve. Talkin' Dan Gable. Limerick Publications, 1983.

Smith, R.L. The Legend of Dan Gable: "The" Wrestler. Milwaukee: Medalist Industries, 1974.

Zavoral, Nolan. A Season on the Mat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.


Gustkey, Earl. "Iowa Legend Could Be Candidate for a Fall." Los Angeles Times (July 18, 2001): D2.

McKee, Steve. "Solid Gold (lives of Olympic athletes after retiring from competition)." American Health 11 (June, 1992): 48.

Newsweek (November 8, 1999): 83.

Raab, Scott. "Nasty Dan and his wrestling empire." Sport 79 (April, 1988): 38.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (March 12, 2000): D8.

Sports Illustrated (March 31, 1997): 32.

USA Today (November 11, 1999): 3C.


"Dan Gable." (November 8, 2002).

"The Official Dan Gable Web site." (November 8, 2002).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren