Dan Gable details Munich 1972 Olympic tragedy in book excerpt

Dan Gable
Courtesy Dan Gable

Dan Gable is best known for his wrestling success.

* Compiling a 181-1 record in his Iowa State and high school career.

* Capturing Olympic gold in 1972 without giving up a point.

* Guiding the University of Iowa to 15 national titles as a coach from 1976 through 1997.

But Gable also experienced great loss.

The American freestyle wrestling legend detailed that in the pages of his recently released book, “A Wrestling Life: The Inspiring Stories of Dan Gable.”

Gable, now 66, looked back on his Munich 1972 Olympic experience in this excerpt:

I have dealt with both losses and tragedy on more occasions than I care to remember. I experienced them twice at the 1972 Olympics.

The day I won my Olympic gold medal and was carried triumphantly off the mat, my Olympic teammate, Rick Sanders, lost his own gold medal match and walked away unsatisfied with silver. Sanders was a great guy and a great wrestler, but he also liked to party a lot. He often teased me because I was all work and very little play. That was definitely not Sanders. He wasn’t mean about things, but I was the butt of many of his wisecracks.

He and I first met in April 1967 at the prestigious AAU National Championships. Sanders was three years older than me, and I had just wrapped up my freshman year at Iowa State. This competition was my first time wrestling freestyle, so I was learning as I was competing. The rules and scoring in freestyle wrestling are different from folkstyle, which is what is wrestled in high school and college. In addition, back in the 1960s, freshmen were not allowed by the NCAA to compete as varsity athletes, so I had battled my way into the semifinals of the tournament. Sanders, on the other hand, was already a multi-NCAA champion and knew his way around freestyle wrestling.

Our first encounter was indicative of how our relationship would play out for years to come. I was standing off by myself getting ready for the semifinals, when all of a sudden I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and there stood the older Sanders.

“Hey Gable,” Sanders said.


“You got a baseball bat?”

The odd question threw me off. I was never the kind of wrestler who did much talking, especially with the competition.

“Why?” I asked cautiously.

Sanders quipped, “You better find one and bring it to the semis. You got me next.”

This was my introduction to Rick Sanders and freestyle wrestling. Sanders won the match 6 to 0. I gave up four of those points because I exposed my own shoulders. I learned a lot from him that night and started an ever-building relationship.

After the 1972 Olympic freestyle wrestling event was over, the entire team went out for dinner that night. Over the meal, I had a long talk with a disappointed Sanders. He had seen how I had trained and that it ultimately led to gold. Now he wanted to shadow me and prepare for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He wanted the gold medal he felt he had missed out on.

A major reason for Sanders’s interest in working with me had to do with my leadership of the entire Olympic team. I always tried to lead by example through hard work and my ability to remain at a high level of intensity for extended periods of time. Sanders saw the influence my work ethic had on the team, but it wasn’t until after the Olympic freestyle wrestling event was over that he admitted it.

I liked Sanders’s idea of shadowing me, as I knew it would give me a chance to further develop my leadership skills as much as my wrestling prowess. I was going on to coaching and could direct and guide him for the next four years. I would have been in a position where I could have really helped him prepare for the 1976 games. I wanted him to win the Olympics, too.

Early one morning soon after the competition, I awoke in my room at the Olympic Village to what I thought were firecrackers. Not giving the banging much thought, I rolled over in my dorm bed and went back to sleep. When I awoke again later, it was time to get back to work. The United States Greco-Roman Wrestling Team was scheduled for an early morning training session, and I was going to attend. Taking time off was not an option, even after a major victory. I kept my word to Sanders and went to his room to have him join me.

I knocked on the door, and it took Sanders a little while to answer. It was obvious he had been up late partying. He’d clearly been drinking, and there was a girl in his room. I told him to get dressed, that we were going to train with the Greco team.

Sanders’s response set in motion a series of events that changed both our lives. “I’ll start tomorrow,” he told me.

I was disappointed. I went off alone for two hours of wrestling, while Sanders went back into his room.

Meanwhile, away from the Olympic Village, my parents’ eyes were fixed on their television with their phone in hand trying to reach me. As that morning progressed, the world’s eyes were on the Munich Olympic Games, but rather than focusing on athletes and sporting events, longtime ABC sportscaster Jim McKay was covering a hard news story.

What I thought were firecrackers going off in the early morning turned out to actually be gunfire, as a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September stormed the dorm next to where the American athletes were staying. The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Palestinians being held hostage in Israel. The Israeli government was unwilling to negotiate with terrorists, so people around the world held their collective breath over the next few days. When it finally ended, a total of eleven Israeli coaches and athletes were killed between the initial attack and a foiled rescue attempt.

When they first heard about the terrorist attack, my parents were frantic. Thanks to the television news, they knew what was going on inside the Olympic Village, but I was so focused on wrestling that I had no idea, and it was going on in the dorm right next to where we were staying. My parents had already lost one of their children to violence, and they were terrified of having that happen again. When my parents were finally able to get a hold of me, that’s when I found out about the situation.

I also learned that one of the Israeli athletes who was killed in the attack was the wrestler Eliezer Halfin, in my same weight class of 68 kg. We weren’t friends, but I knew him. He was a very good wrestler and a great person. I had a lot of respect for him.

Suddenly, the entire sad situation hit too close to home. With all that was going on, my entire family headed home to Iowa as soon as we were able. I never saw Rick Sanders again.

After Munich, Sanders chose to stick to his earlier plan to hitchhike around Europe for a while. During his trek, Sanders and a driver who picked him up were in a car crash. Sanders, the first American to ever win a gold medal at the Wrestling World Championships, was killed.

Looking back, maybe I should have used a baseball bat that morning in Munich to get Rick to come with me to the Greco practice. Who knows? It may have set in motion a string of events that could have saved his life.

The terrorist attack at the Olympic Games and Sanders’s death shortly thereafter have always haunted me. Having experienced real tragedy like that taught me about perspective. Losing my last college match to Larry Owings was devastating. Losing what would have been Iowa’s tenth NCAA Championship in 1987 was devastating. But neither was even close to being as devastating as the murder of my sister, the loss of my friend in a car crash, or the murder of Halfin and all of those athletes and coaches that I respected.

From A WRESTLING LIFE: THE INSPIRING STORIES OF DAN GABLE, by Dan Gable with Scott Schulte. Published by the University of Iowa Press (http://www.uiowapress.org/). Copyright © by the University of Iowa Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)

There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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