|Dave Schultz is declared the winner of a match during the United States national wrestling competition in Las Vegas on May 6, 1995.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The spirit of Dave Schultz was alive and well at the U.S. Olympic Training Center this week.
For three days, dozens of elite wrestlers from around the globe converged upon the OTC to square off in the 17th Dave Schultz Memorial International Championships. Through a partnership among USA Wrestling, the Dave Schultz Wrestling Foundation, the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Springs Sports Corp, some of the United States’ best wrestlers have the chance to face top-notch international competition on home soil as they prepare for a busy and challenging season.
Not only does the event serve as a high-caliber measuring stick for some of the world’s top wrestling prospects, it also honors and promotes the legacy of 1984 Olympic champion Dave Schultz, who was murdered on Jan. 26, 1996. Schultz, the 1983 world champion, was one of the sport’s most beloved champions and worked tirelessly to promote wrestling as an ambassador around the world.
Those who know him best believe Schultz, a seven-time world and Olympic medalist, would be thrilled by what the tournament has become.
“He’d love this tournament,” said Schultz’s widow, Nancy. “It was important to honor Dave, but Dave would want another reason to have this tournament to bring great athletes here to the States for our guys to compete against. I think he’d be super happy about this tournament and the caliber of athletes it brings here.
“It’s really amazing that this tribute still goes on almost 20 years later.”
Nancy Schultz believes the tournament is so popular because it gives up-and-coming stars such a great opportunity to match up against elite wrestlers of all kinds.
“I think it raises the level of USA Wrestling just by having it,” she said. “You don’t want our athletes when they go to another country for the first time to be star-struck and to have never wrestled a Russian or a Korean. You want them to compete against these guys three or four years in a row so that when they show up at a world cup or a Pan Am Games, they’re comfortable with the international feel to a tournament.”
Jim Humphrey, who coached Dave Schultz at the University of Oklahoma and served as the 1988 U.S. Olympic coach, agrees.
“This is great and will just go on in perpetuity,” said Humphrey, who also coached at Foxcatcher Farm, where Schultz was killed. “Dave was one of our great wrestlers, and it’s just a great tournament. Guys come from all over the world.”
For Nancy Schultz and her children, Alexander and Danielle, coming to Colorado Springs for the tournament is a great way to stay connected to the wrestling family.
“I bring my kids here and they get to know their dad more through all the stories, pictures, videos and all of that,” Nancy Schultz said. “I think they get to know a little more about their dad every time they come to this tournament. They feel completely supported by this environment.”
Wish Fulfilled At Dave Schultz Memorial
Part of Nancy Schultz’s day on Saturday at the Dave Schultz Memorial International was spent with a special 11-year-old. Cason Vandehey and his family were special guests of USA Wrestling at this year’s tournament, and they were recognized and given a special gift pack of USA Wrestling gear before the freestyle finals on Friday.
Vandehey, an avid wrestler, was diagnosed at age 7 with a rare lung condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans that hampers his breathing and restricts his growth. Years of health battles — which included a dilated aortic root and leaking mitral valve in his heart — followed, and Vandehey had to abandon his budding wrestling career. He is still active in his local wrestling community in Cornelius, Oregon, as a coach for younger wrestlers and remains a dedicated fan of USA Wrestling.
Brandon Slay, USA Wrestling’s freestyle resident coach, was a student of Schultz’s who won Olympic gold in 2000 in Sydney. Slay won the 76 kg title at the inaugural Dave Schultz Memorial in 1999 while representing the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club and is honored to remain involved with the tournament.
“It was an honor for me to wrestle in that tournament,” said Slay, who practiced with Schultz the day before he was killed. “It’s clearly about great competition with great wrestlers from all around the world, but more importantly it’s about continuing to honor Dave Schultz and who he was as a man, a father, a husband and a legend in our sport. It was an honor for me to get to compete in it, and now to get to coach in it is a win-win.”
Schultz’s legacy has grown in the mainstream in recent months thanks to the movie “Foxcatcher,” starring Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, which has been nominated for five Academy Awards. The film, directed by Bennett Miller, tells the story of Dave and Mark Schultz and their involvement with Team Foxcatcher.
Ruffalo, who plays Dave Schultz in the movie, has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and also received high praise from Nancy Schultz for his performance.
“Obviously, Ruffalo did an amazing job of portraying Dave, even down to the way he held his coffee cup,” she said. “He’s just a great human being. The care he took with the way he portrayed Dave, I’ll forever be thankful to him for the way he created that character.
“He can bring a character to life because he cares so much about what he’s doing. He’s truly amazing, and I adore him.”
Humphrey was also struck by Ruffalo’s performance.
“I thought the acting was phenomenal, and I thought Mark Ruffalo nailed Dave so well,” he said. “I’m watching the movie, and I’m going, ‘That’s Dave right there!’”
And perhaps the next Dave Schultz was at the Olympic Training Center this year, competing in the tournament that will preserve his legacy forever.
Neal Reid is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who has been published for more than 20 years in outlets including USA Today and Newsday. Reid is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.