What do Jesse Owens, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Arnold Palmer, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth and now Dan Gable have in common? They’re among the few athletes to be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. What’s more, is they’re not just the greatest athletes in the history, but they’re also superb human beings that have dedicated their lives to growing their respective sports.
On Wednesday afternoon Gable told The Des Moines Register that he received correspondence from the White House and that he was to be “The first athlete and coach from the sport of wrestling to receive this distinguished honor.”
Gable went on to add,
“To get an award like this, it’s a lifetime achievement award, not only for what you did, but for what you continue to do. People are texting me and calling me, and they’re just like off the wall.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1963 and is awarded by the President of the United States. It recognizes individuals for meritorious contribution to the national or cultural interests to the United States.
At this point, all Iowans know who Dan Gable is and what he has done throughout his historic life, but for those that may not, let’s take a quick jaunt down memory lane.
He was a 3x finalist and 2x national champ for Iowa State from 1967-1970, going 117-1. His only loss coming in his final collegiate match, finishing runner-up. His freestyle career took off the following year, culminating in a world championship in 1971 and capping it off with a gold medal in the 1972 Olympic games in Munich at 68kg. To further show his dominance he didn’t surrender a single point in his gold medal run, going 6-0 with three falls. He would finish his international career with a perfect 12-0 record.
However, perhaps what he is most known for came next. After leaving Iowa State for their bitter rivals, he joined the coaching staff on our beloved Iowa Hawkeyes in 1972. In 1976 he took over as head coach and would go one of the most dominating runs in collegiate history. Over the next 21 years he led the Hawks to 15 NCAA national titles (including 9 consecutive from 1978-86), 21 Big Ten championships, with a staggering record of 355-21-5. He coached 152 All-Americans, 45 National Champs, and 12 Olympians.
Though many don’t know about his biggest impact, which came long after his retirement in 2013. That year the International Olympic Committee voted wrestling out of the core sports. Of course, Gable wouldn’t allow this to happen. The man had spent his entire life winning; he wasn’t about to let his sport lose everything. He was instrumental in forming the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling. Behind the scenes he pulled and tugged every string he could. Phone calls, flights, meetings, lobbying, and public service announcements. Gable did it all and then some. A few months after the vote, the IOC reinstated wrestling for the 2020 and 2024 Olympic games as a probationary sport. Thanks, in large part to his efforts. Even to this day he is wrestling’s biggest ambassador and continues to fight to preserve wrestling on the Olympic level.
However, this award isn’t something that’s suddenly manifested from thin air. In fact, the Congressional Wrestling Caucus, a congressional group comprised of former wrestlers or members who have a strong interest in the sport, penned a letter to President Trump back in August recommending Gable for this honor.
This award has been given to some of the most culturally impactful athletes and it’s about time our very own can join the pantheon of the all-time greats. Iowans know it. The wrestling community knows it. Now it’s about time the rest of the country does as well.
Unfortunately, this will be looked at by several as a political curveball thrown by the Trump administration leading up to the election. It will undoubtedly draw the ire and scorn of some, but I urge us all to remove any political affiliations we may have and appreciate the recognition this not only gives to Gable and his life, but more importantly, wrestling.
Editor’s Note: Reminder of our no politics policy which has become harder and harder to enforce. Any political comments on this post will be removed and the comment section will be shut down.
There’s a reason why the greats are memorialized and immortalized. Because they possess a physical and mental gift that very few have or will ever achieve. A lifetime of sacrifice to become the very best at what they do with the ultimate goal of passing it on. Blood, sweat, tears, and dedication. There’s a very simply reason why these icons make great coaches, teachers, public speakers, and mentors. It’s because they know how to get the best out of people, inspire them, and elevate them above and beyond. They impact people’s lives and push them to be better. This is why they are Giants and why they should be remembered.
That’s exactly what Gable has done for 50+ years.
Congratulations to him and his family.
For anyone that’s interested in reading a fantastic ESPN article that dropped back in 2013, shortly before the vote reversal, I encourage you to do so right here. This will at least give you some insight into what this man is and what he is about. It’s become a yearly read for me. Please enjoy!