#ThrowbackThursday: 1998 World champion and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Feb. 14, 2019, 4:42 p.m. (ET)
Image of Sammie Henson celebrating his victory in the 2000 Olympic Trials in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Kevin Allen.

Sammie Henson was easily one of the most intense, and most successful, wrestlers in USA Wrestling history. Based upon his tremendous achievements and his fierce competitiveness in all that he does, Henson was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015.

Nicknamed “The Bull,” he is a native of St. Charles, Mo. Henson had success at a very high level early in his career. A three-time state champion for Francis Howell High School, Henson also had many national achievements in USA Wrestling international style events.

Henson became one of the rare athletes who were able to win Senior National titles in both Olympic disciplines. Early in his career, Henson had great achievements in Greco-Roman. A three-time Junior Nationals finalist and two-time champion, Henson was able to qualify for Olympic Team Trials in Greco-Roman while still in high school. In his early years of college wrestling, Henson went on to become a U.S. Senior National Greco-Roman champion in 1990 and a member of the Greco-Roman National Team. He was later second in the 1992 Olympic Trials in Greco-Roman.

His college career had two stops, starting by earning All-American honors as a freshman for the University of Missouri. Henson chose to transfer to Clemson University, losing a year of eligibility. He closed out his college career by winning two NCAA titles for Clemson in 1993 and 1994, and winning his final 71 college matches.

Click here for Sammie Henson Hall of Fame biography

Later in his college career, Henson turned his focus on freestyle, and set on a mission to become the best in the world. For five consecutive years, Henson was one of the elite in the nation in freestyle, but competed in an era which included World champion and Olympic medalist Zeke Jones and Olympian Lou Rosselli, talented Eric Akin, among others. He started winning medals at major international meets, but did not yet qualify for World-level events.

Henson broke through big on the international level in 1998, when he won the U.S. Open and then captured the World Team Trials, making his first U.S. Senior World Team. At the World Championships in Tehran, Iran, Henson competed with power and poise and won the World gold medal on his very first try.

Trivia Question: Who did Sammie Henson beat in the finals of the 1998 World Championships in Iran?
(Answer at the bottom of this story)

Henson’s next opportunity on the biggest stage came in 2000, when he won the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to qualify for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Henson powered through his bracket to reach the gold-medal finals, losing by one point and coming home with a silver medal.

Henson continued wrestling for six more seasons, although there were a few seasons which he only entered a few events. In 2004, he placed second in both the U.S. Open and the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. However, in the next two years, late in his career, Henson moved back up and became to the No. 1 athlete in the nation again. He competed in the 2005 World Championships, but did not medal. The next year, at the age of 35, he won a World bronze medal at 55 kg in Guangzhou, China.

He also has made a big impact as a wrestling coach. After his retirement as an athlete, Henson coached regularly for the Sunkist Kids, mentoring top freestyle athletes on the national and international level. On the college level, Henson served assistant coaching stints at many top programs, including Missouri, Oklahoma, Cal Poly, Nebraska, Army and Penn State. He became the head coach at West Virginia University in 2014, and led the Mountaineer program through 2018. Numerous champion wrestlers have been influenced by Henson as a coach and mentor.

Trivia question answer: Henson defeated Namik Abdullaev of Azerbaijan in the finals of the 1998 World Championships in Iran, 3-1. The two faced off again in the 2000 Olympic Games finals in Australia, a match won by Abdullaev, 4-3.