“Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.” —Dan Gable, U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist
It’s not the prize at the end of the road that’s special—it’s the journey that gets you there. Arguably, this is what Dan Gable, the greatest U.S. Olympic wrestler in history, meant by his quote. The blood, sweat and tears that athletes endure—their courage, sacrifices and determination—are what create champions.
As an athlete, Gable knew far too well the meaning of discipline and self-sacrifice. His passion for wrestling stemmed from a tragic event during his sophomore year of high school, when his older sister was murdered. As a way to cope with the pain, Gable spent countless hours training for perfection, using wrestling to keep his family from falling apart. He went undefeated on the mat throughout the rest of his high school career, claiming three Iowa state titles and a ticket to Iowa State University.
Gable wearing his gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games.
With the Cyclones, Gable continued his quest for perfection. During his sophomore and junior years (NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from wrestling), he notched two more undefeated seasons. His senior year was nearly perfect, as his only collegiate defeat came in his final match for the national championship. His overall collegiate record was 181-1.
Two years later, at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, all of Gable’s hard work and dedication paid off again. Not only did he go undefeated and win the gold, he did not surrender a single point throughout the tournament.
When his competitive athletic career was over, Gable chose to share his knowledge of excellence and determination, creating a dynasty with the University of Iowa wrestling program. During his 21 years as head coach, the Hawkeyes captured 21 conference titles and 15 NCAA team titles—including nine in a row, from ’78 to ’86.
The road of a champion is long and tough, littered with obstacles. Dan Gable knew this at a young age, and it motivated him to embark on a quest for perfection that made him into one of the greatest champions of all time.