If you need a little weekend reading, friends, you could do worse -- a lot worse -- than this compelling profile by Sports Illustrated's Albert Chen on Dan Gable and Larry Owings, two men whose histories are inextricably intertwined. The name "Larry Owings" might not be immediately recognizable to Iowa fans, but he's an important figure in the history of both Gable and Iowa wrestling. See, Larry Owings is the The Man Who Beat Dan Gable.
He beat Gable in the finals of the 1970 NCAA Tournament, one of the most famous wrestling matches in history. It's famous in part because of the outcome -- it was the only match Gable lost in college -- and in part because of what it led to: an even more focused and determined Gable, who won gold at the World Championships and Olympics in the years that follow and who then coached Iowa to 15 national championships in 21 seasons, a staggering and unprecedented accomplishment. Does all that happens without the loss to Owings? Maybe it does... but maybe it doesn't. Given that Gable -- by his own admission in the piece -- still isn't truly over that loss and that it still lights a fire in him... well, I'm gonna say that that loss was perhaps the best thing that ever could have happened to Gable -- and, by extension, Iowa wrestling. That loss is a key part of the creation story for the Dan Gable myth. It's an essential part of the origin story for Dan Gable-as-superhero.
So, yeah, go read the article. It's full of great details like this in the aftermath of Gable's loss to Owings:
With none of his family members in attendance that day, Owings remembers staggering around, trying to process what just happened. "I was almost embarrassed to have won," he says. Many who were there that day use the same words to describe the strange aftermath: it was like a bomb went off. Gable was in the locker room when he heard the water running in the shower. He walked over and saw his teammate Chuck Jean there. Jean was due to wrestle in the night's final match, and the PA announcer called for the match wrestlers: Jean had three minutes to get to the mat. What are you doing? Gable asked Jean as he stood there under the water. "I'm not going out there," Jean said. "I've never wrestled after you've lost a match, and I'm not going to do it now." Says Gable, "You could say that this was my first coaching moment. I told him he had to get out there." Jean made it out just in time; he won the match, and the national title.
Gable says that the loss was "like a death in the family." "It just about killed my parents," he says. "It was my mom's worst fear." Feeling stripped of his powers after his loss, Gable was finding out what it was like to be human. After returning to Ames the next day, the first thing he did was ask teammates to wrestle him. After beating up on them, he thought to himself, OK, I'm still good. In the days afterward he shut himself from the world. He holed himself up in his room, he didn't talk to anyone, he didn't even return his parents' phone calls. One day his mother finally showed up at his door and when she saw Dan, she slapped him across the face, walked away, and made the one and a half hour drive back to Waterloo. "I could talk after that," he says.
It's also a worthwhile read to find out more about Owings, who was an interesting figure in his own right.