"Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts."
These words, written about Gable from an interview and not directly spoken by the wrestling legend, still stand out as a true marker of the mindset of this champion. Gable had his fair share of golds, and, as a three-time conference champion and two-time NCAA champion, he's one of the best to ever compete in the sport. Gable amassed a college record of 117-1 — losing just once in his career as a senior in the NCAA finals — when he wrestled for the Iowa State Cyclones from 1966-1970.
While the loss ruined Gable's chance of a perfect record, the Iowa native built upon his legacy further as a coach for the Iowa Hawkeyes from 1976-1997. He won 15 NCAA team titles to etch his name in history as one of the greatest coaches of all time. Gable's coached 45 NCAA champions, 12 Olympians, 152 All-Americans and 106 conference champions. Dan Gable is synonymous with wrestling and his presence hangs over the Hawkeye wrestling room that bears his name.
Here's everything you need to know about Dan Gable the Coach, Dan Gable the Wrestler and Dan Gable the Legend.
Dan Gable biography
The mystique of the man nicknamed “Danny Mack” started early in the state of Iowa. Gable writes in his book A Wrestling Life that his he was "devious" but driven and competitive, starting his athletic career as a swimmer before wrestling. The decision to switch sports proved wise.
A three-time high school wrestling state champion in Waterloo, Gable never lost a preps match before starting his career at Iowa State, but that didn’t mean his high school journey as a student-athlete was easy. The violent, tragic death of his sister when he was 15 years old lit a fire in young Gable, and he poured himself into his sport as a form of therapy and escape. He won all 64 of his high school matchups for Waterloo West High School and pinned 25 of those opponents, earning the chance to wrestle collegiately for Iowa State University where he would go on to become a collegiate champion and be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As a freshman, Gable was not eligible to compete varsity because of NCAA rules at the time, but he ran through the open Midlands bracket, won Outstanding Wrestler honors and picked up a 17-0 unattached record. Grown college men couldn’t stop Gable. His confidence grew.
Gable continued to dominate the college wrestling scene in the lighter weights all the way through his senior year before the unexpected happened. In the final match of his illustrious career with the Cardinal and Gold, Gable suffered what is considered one of the biggest upset losses in college wrestling history, dropping to Larry Owings of Washington University 13-11. The loss fueled Gable and led the second phase of a career that would conclude with an Olympic gold medal in the 1972 Olympics. In that Olympic run, Gable didn't give up a single point. Not one takedown, not one turn, nothing. He was perfect.
Watch Dan Gable's gold medal match here:
The journey to gold also included several momentous occasions for Gable, as he won the 1971 World Championships and won the 1971 Pan American Games before beginning his coaching career in 1972 with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Two years later, he would marry his wife Kathy and begin to build a life for himself in Iowa.
Wrestling remained a key part of Gable's life after his own retirement. In 1976, after working as an assistant for the Black and Gold for less than half a decade, Gable would have all the experience he needed to take over the helm, creating the start of a new era in Iowa City for himself and the Hawkeyes.
Gable's first season as a the head coach at the University of Iowa resulted in five conference champs and five All-Americans, as well as an NCAA Champion in Chris Campbell at 177 pounds. The team finished third, eleven points out of first place, but such a finish would be rare in the two decades to come.
Skip ahead two years to 1978, and Gable’s leadership had changed the culture in the Hawkeye wrestling room. The team snuck past Iowa State, Gable's alma mater, that year to win NCAAs with six All-Americans before returning home to continue to build the dynasty. Iowa won the team's first Big Ten title at home in Iowa City in 1979 under Gable, but again, winning was the norm at this point. Iowa then won the NCAA tournament in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997 before Gable retired with glory.
All the success and all the titles though couldn't push away the bitterness of the missing years in the winning dynasty for Gable, and he writes in his book that 1987, the year that would have been the team's tenth consecutive title, was hindered by a team without “the correct attitude and work ethic in and out of practice.” Gable expected nothing less than his men desiring greatness from themselves.
The man had fundamentally shaped the brand of Iowa style wrestling and he took his program to unprecedented heights. No team in history had won nine championships in a row, and no team in history had won 25 straight conference titles.
Gable's fierce persona became part of reputation, and he describes himself in his book A Wrestling Life 2 as “the guy who never smiled,” but explains that the image came from always having his “game face on.” Coaching brought him joy though, so much so that he found himself working after hours and spending extra time with his athletes. An injury pushed him out of coaching, and he’s now focused on growing the sport from an ambassador role and spending time with his family.
Sweat, determination and the hard-to-find alloy called guts led Gable to gold year after year after year in Iowa City, and though he would retire in 1997, he’s never truly left. A seven-foot bronze statue of the wrestling and coaching legend sits outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena permanently, staring down each opponent who dares to enter the House that Gable Built.
Dan Gable's college records
IOWA STATE RECORDS
Most pins in a career: 76
Dan Gable's college statistics
The beginning for Dan Gable (1967)
Dan Gable was the man in high school. An undefeated pinner who rolled over his opponents with ease, Gable came into college with high expectations for himself and his team. He wouldn't accept a loss, even from an athlete more experienced at the next level. In the summer before his first year as a Cyclone, Gable prepared with a level of heightened discipline and focus, working out every day and building himself into a champion. He invited fellow Cyclone and two-time Big Eight conference champion Bob Buzzard into his basement that summer for a benchmark match to see where he stacked up, and the outcome startled Gable.
"Bob Buzzard beat the tar out of me in the wrestling room I had fixed up in our basement. He beat me so bad that I cried," Gable said in a 1972 interview with Sports Illustrated. "I suddenly realized that being a three-time state champ wasn't good enough." That match gave Gable a taste of college wrestling, and he committed himself to rising to Buzzard's status and beyond.
HISTORY BOOKS: 10 all-time dream college wrestling matchups at every weight
He knew he could train his body to reach new levels, and wrestling unattached for Iowa State at 130 pounds during the 1966-1967 season, he did just that. At the 1966 Midlands tournament, Gable took down Marc Owens, Frank Clark and Paul Barrow in the open tournament before facing, and defeating, Don Behm, a wrestler from Michigan State who had finished third in the NCAA championships the year before. He then beat NCAA finalist Masaaki Hatta, a match even Gable himself worried about but one that changed the course of his collegiate wrestling career. The wins against Hatta and Behm put a target on his back, but he liked the pressure, just like he liked the disciple of wrestling. He finished off his freshman season after Midlands with five straight dominant wins and posted his first collegiate undefeated season. He wouldn't have a chance to compete for a title in his initial season because of the NCAA freshmen rules at the time, but he was building himself up and preparing for what would be his first national title.
Dan Gable's freshman year (1966-1967)
Dean Stauch, Minnesota, 8-0
Don Stamp, Northern Iowa, 4-0
Rich Leichtman, Iowa State, 3-2
Darold Andrist, Winona State, 2:45
Roy Prange, Iowa City, 2:56
Jim Christensen, Cedar Falls, 5:42
Jim Mineke, Wayne, Neb., 3:20
Rich Leichtman, Iowa State, 1-1
Marc Owens, unattached, 3:37
Frank Clark, unattached, 3:22
Paul Barrow, Southern Illinois, 8-3
Don Behm, Michigan State, 10-5
Masaaki Hatta, Michigan Wrestling Club, 8-3
HAWKEYE HISTORY: All the best moments from Iowa's 23 national titles
Fred Stamm, Nebraska, 2:46
Ervin Nelson, Mankato State, 10-0
Don Johnson, Rochester JC, 1:36
Jim Christensen, Northern Iowa, 5:29
Dan Gable's first NCAA title (1968)
Gable started his reign in his first year as a varsity starter. He won 37 matches at 137 pounds and claimed his first NCAA title and a second-place team trophy for the Cyclones. He opened the season with a sweep of the Wartburg Tournament where he bonused all five of his opponents and then picked up seven more wins before heading to Midlands for the first time as an attached wrestler for the Cyclones. Wrestling from within the middle of the bracket, Gable pinned his way through the first, second and third round before facing a tough opponent in Jack Dunn. He majored Dunn and then took down Dale Anderson of Michigan State, a man who would go on to win two NCAA titles for the Spartans.
Midlands showed the world what kind of an athlete Gable was, and he continued to do nothing but win through his conference tournament and into the NCAA finals. He nearly bonused his way through the Big Eight tournament and then took down John Walker, Mike McAdams and Pete Nord by fall in the NCAA tournament along with a major against Steve Comiskey and a 7-0 win against Wes Caine. The final against Dave McGuire was much closer, with Gable edging out the win 4-1, but a win is a win, and Gable ended the season as the 1968 NCAA champion at 137 pounds. McGuire would also go on to win two titles.
The summer after his first title, Gable took a shot at qualifying for the Olympic team, wrestling in the 1968 Olympic Trials in Ames, Iowa, and he beat Larry Owing, the man who would later end Gable's winning streak as a college wrestler. Gable didn't make the Olympic Team in 1968, but his performance at the tournament showed that he was in the upper echelon of athletes at his weight and would be a threat in 1972.
Dan Gable's sophomore Year (1967-1968)
Phil Ferguson, Mt. Vernon, 2:56
Bob Soulet, Mankato, 14-2 83
Mike Bovick, Cedar Falls, 3:35
Tony Stevens, Mason City, 3:51 85
Dave Hartle, Storm Lake, 10-2
Jim McDougal, Kansas State, 11-3
Bob Kawa, Utah, 2:45
Russ McAdams, Brigham Young, 10-5
Dan Pry, Cal Poly, 12-0
Bob Jones, Oregon State, 12-2
Ed Peverill, Fresno State, 2:31
John Hahn, UCLA, 5-3
Doug Kern, Purdue, 3:59
Rey Tinnes, Southern Illinois, 4:50
Joe Carstensen, Iowa, 2:40
Jack Dunn, Northwestern, 17-2
Dale Anderson, Michigan State, 2-2, 6-2(OT)
Dale Richter, Mankato State, 7:21
Richie Leonardo, Oklaoma State, 11-0
Jack Dunn, Northwestern, 7-2
Stan Keeley, Oklahoma, 7:38
Tim Topping, Southern Illinois, 3:45
Ray Murphy, Oklahoma State, 6-5
Dennis Dobson, Nebraska, 4:58
Tom Keeley, Oklahoma, 7:00
Pete Nord, Colorado, 7-1
Gary Dobson, Colorado State U, 3:44
Big Eight Tournament
Bill Williams, Missouri, 3:22
Jim McDougal, Kansas State, 10-0
Dave McGuire, Oklahoma, 8-2
Steve Comiskey, Navy, 16-2
John Walker, Oswego, 5:32
Wes Caine, Northern Illinois, 7-0
Mike McAdams, Brigham Young, 7:01
Pete Nord, Colorado, 7:39
Dave McGuire, Oklahoma, 4-1
Dan Gable's second NCAA title (1969)
As a junior, Dan Gable was back on the scene and better than ever. Gable stuck with the 137-pound weight class for his junior season and tore through every opponent that dared to cross his path. He pinned his first six opponents of the season, including all five of his Midlands opponents, and then either pinned or won by forfeit against 14 of his next 17 before the Big Eight tournament. The conference tournament proved to be no exception to that pattern either, as Gable pinned Dale Dittmar of Colorado and Jim McDougal of Kansas State before winning by forfeit against Oklahoma State in the finals. A two-time Big Eight champion, Gable had all the momentum he needed to cruise to his second NCAA title. He was unstoppable. All five of his opponents in the national tournament lost by fall to the powerful and forceful Cyclone champion, and Gable started to capture even more national attention. By this point in his career, fans and media members alike assumed he would never lose again.
Dan Gable's Junior Year (1968-1969)
Irwin Berman, Oklahoma, 7:20
Paul Cechoweiz, unattached, 1:50
Ted Lamphere, Minnesota, 4:21
John Fregau, Illinois, 2:45
Ted Henson, Michigan, 3:37
Keith Lowrance, Michigan State, 7:45
Marty Willigan, Hofstra, 12-1
Leeman, Lehigh, 3:12
Jake Homick, Franklin & Marshall, 5:44
Durt Callahan, Maryland, 6:55
Richie Leonardo, Oklahoma State, 2:45
Steve Buttrey, Northwestern, 2:39
Jesse Sandoval, UCLA, 2:58
Gene Davis, Athletes in Action, 8-2
Pat Bolger, Oklahoma, 6:03
Rondo Fehlberg, Brigham Young, 4:57
Eddie Griffin, Oklahoma State, 2:40
Conrad Metcalf, Colorado, 6:50
Gary Kratzer, Indiana State, 25-6
Jim Cook, Southern Illinois, 4:36
Jim McDougal, Kansas State, 2:58
Dennis Dobson, Nebraska, 6:06
Big Eight Tournament
Dale Dittmar, Colorado, 4:56
Jim McDougal, Kansas State, 0:45
Mike Rubin, Michigan, 4:09
Jack Stover, Virginia Tech, 3:46
Dick Humphreys, Indiana State, 4:31
Ron Russo, Bloomsburg State, 4:16
Marty Willigan, Hofstra, 4:17
The season with the loss (1970)
No one could beat Gable, and the wrestling community knew it. With one season to go in his college career, Gable had remained undefeated, won two conference titles and two NCAA titles. He had cemented himself as one of the greatest of all time. He was Dan Gable, and he was the best in the country.
Everything went according to Gable's plan for the first 33 matches of his senior season. He blazed through another Midlands bracket, pinning all five of his opponents, he picked up another conference title by pinning all three of those opponents and he earned another spot in the NCAA finals after five pins. The storybook ending was in sight. He would be the first wrestler in history to have won all of his high school and college matches if he won his last dual, and he expected to win his last dual. Dan Gable was a winner every time he competed. Until Larry Owings took the mat.
The story of Dan Gable isn't complete without The Match. The once-perfect, undefeated college wrestler, the man no one could stop had all the confidence in the world leading into the NCAA tournament. He had the titles and the credibility, but most importantly, he knew he outworked everyone. He had been the face of the Cyclone wrestling program since he stepped foot on campus, and his name had become known throughout sports circles. But a seed of doubt crept into his mind when he heard University of Washington sophomore Larry Owings utter these heated words to a reporter before the NCAA tournament: "I'm here to beat Dan Gable." No one said anything like that in 1970. No one except Owings.
Owings lost to Gable at the Olympic Trials in 1968 but had quietly been making waves and dropped down to compete with Gable at 142 pounds in Gable's senior season. Owings, the No. 2 seed at the NCAA tournament, pinned all five his opponents as well to earn a shot against the legend.
It came in a dramatic final, with Gable's perfect career on the line. Owings did it, he topped Gable, 13-11. That's how Gable ended his career. 117-1. Almost perfect.
The next day, Gable was back to work, building the foundation for what would be a stellar international career and an even more successful coaching career. Gable's college career was full of accolades, but the Iowa State champion believes that he only "got good" after Owings. Sometimes even legends benefit from loss.
Watch the match between Larry Owings and Dan Gable:
Dan Gable's senior Year (1969-1970)
Rick Ramirez, Missouri, 3:11
Gary Baker, Drake, 1:13
Larry Woodson, Missouri, 1:17
John Stein, New Mexico, 3:44
Tom Bensen, Arizona State, 3:52
Dan Larkin, Arizona, 2:57
John Fregeau, Illinois, 3:56
Larry Hurlburt, Central Michigan, 1:55
Warren Gamble, Ball State, 3:30
Dave Dominick, Oklahoma State, 7:43
Keith Lowrance, Michigan State, 6:42
Vince Raft, Southern Illinois, 3:46
Tom Meier, Nebraska, 5:21
Phil Fitzgerald, Oklahoma State, 5:45
Herb Campbell, Lehigh, 23-3
Fred Kemp, Hofstra, 5:47
Bill Beakley, Oklahoma, 3:40
Ivar Moi, Indiana State, 2:31
Doug Campbell, Oklahoma State, 1:32
Bob Pomplun, Mankato State, 3:50
Steve Walters, Kansas State, 2:40
Charles Annand, Colorado State U, 2:47
Dan Talcott, Colorado, 4:12
Don Silbaugh, Wyoming, 3:49
Mike Grant, Oklahoma, 9-4
Big Eight Tournament
Dan Talcott, Colorado, 2:38
Lyle Cook, Kansas State, 3:56
Doug Campbell, Oklahoma State, 2:22
Larry Hulburt, Central Michigan, 3:11
Steve Walter, Indiana State, 5:28
Gary Pelci, Minnesota, 4:29
Bill Bleakley, Oklahoma, 2:27
Wayne Bright, Old Dominion, 6:33
LOST to Larry Owings, Washington, 13-11