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Published February 18 2010

Legendary wrestling coach has crowd in his grasp at Fargo Theatre

Dan Gable had the crowd at “hello.”

He is, after all, an icon in the wrestling world.

And the audience for Wednesday night’s speech at the Fargo Theatre was made up mostly of wrestlers and coaches in town for this week’s North Dakota state tournament.

But the standing ovation following Gable’s hour-long presentation appeared to have more to do with the substance of his words than the Olympic gold medal winner and former University of Iowa head coach’s impressive resume.

“Pretty much exactly what you wanted him to talk about,” said Carrington coach Mark Pazdernik, whose high school wrestling club booked Gable for the event. “Motivate you. You have your ups and downs. … These kids need to learn everything isn’t going to go their way, but you still need to get up, get out of bed the next day and start the day over.”

Gable became one of wrestling’s favorite sons as an athlete at Iowa State. He finished 181-1 for the Cyclones, and went on to earn the gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Gable later guided Iowa to 17 national championships and 24 consecutive Big Ten titles as the head coach at Iowa.

So when he talks, the wrestling world listens – intently.

Gable’s speech focused on growing the sport of wrestling in the United States, the importance of setting high goals and a strong family support system and battling through adversity.

He said one of his major concerns is the lack of college opportunities for the nearly 270,000 boys and girls high school wrestlers in the U.S.

“We have a long way to go,” said Gable, who lost his final collegiate match after he was talked into filming a spot on ABC’s Wide World of Sports television show to tout his undefeated career.

Gable said his only college loss propelled him to new heights in wrestling. He said he worked harder than ever to achieve his goals.

He urged wrestlers in the audience to stay within their game plans at state, and to push themselves beyond their self-imposed limits.

“I throw my passion toward this sport and I throw my passion toward my family,” Gable said. “Some people need motivation. I certainly don’t need much more. I’ve got too much. I’ve got so much I’m trying to slow down, but I can’t. That’s why I’m trying to will a little bit of it to you.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562