A living legend: Gable visits Conrad to talk wrestling, Smithsonian exhibit

Legendary Iowa State wrestler and Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable (right) signs autographs for Owen Myers, Eddie Wanken and Jacob Castell during a stop at BCLUW High School in Conrad on Sunday. He was promoting the Smithsonian's "Hometown Teams" exhibit and his latest book, A Wrestling Life 2. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photo) 

In Alabama, it’s Bear Bryant, and in Los Angeles, it’s John Wooden. Here in Iowa, Dan Gable has cemented himself among the all-time great college coaches in any sport, and he wasn’t a bad athlete either.


Gable stopped in Conrad on Sunday afternoon to promote his latest book, A Wrestling Life 2, and share anecdotes from his long, storied career as one of the world’s foremost ambassadors of wrestling. He joked that the last time he was in town in the early 1970’s, he got into his first car accident, and he got a speeding ticket for going 26 in a 25 in Grundy Center in 1968. He hasn’t forgotten about either incident in the years since. 


A native of Waterloo, Gable became one of the greatest wrestlers in Iowa State history, finishing his career with West High School and the Cyclones 181-1—his only loss came in his final match against Washington’s Larry Owings. He carried that success to the 1972 Munich Olympic games, winning all of his matches without allowing a point, and led the University of Iowa to 17 NCAA championships in 22 years as the head coach between 1976 and 1997.


When asked about the one loss, a 13-11 decision, Gable admitted that he had been swept up in the press attention surrounding him and simply failed to prepare. He beat Owings on several occasions before and after, but that defeat has always stayed with him.


“You’re vulnerable when you don’t do what you need to do as an athlete every time out no matter how good you are,” he said. “So many things happened in that match that I had never experienced before… (Owings) was in my head. He’s still in my head. I can’t get him out of there.”


One characteristic Gable will never be accused of is modesty: he’s proud of his achievements, and he doesn’t care who knows it. When he introduced local wrestling legend and state champion Craig Schwienebart and longtime coach Bruce Altenhein, he praised Conrad and the surrounding areas for having some of the richest soil in the world—noting that it’s something all residents should be proud of. 


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