#ThrowbackThursday: Things to be thankful for in wrestling on Thanksgiving

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Nov. 28, 2019, 10:32 a.m. (ET)
Image of Rulon Gardner having his hand raised after beating Alexander Karelin. Martin Gabor/UWW photo.

Instead of posting an old action video, or writing a bio story on a legend, or digging up some photos from days gone by, we will celebrate Thanksgiving 2019 with a list of things to be thankful about in wrestling.

Since its #ThrowbackThursday, I will throw it back, way back to when I started wrestling in 1972. Yes, that was a long time ago. (Please understand that these are the opinions of the author and the author only).


… that the International Olympic Committee came to its senses and voted to retain wrestling as an Olympic sport in September 2013.

… that wrestling opportunities for girls and women are exploding right now, and our great sport will be available to more and more people than ever before.

… that my brother Jim decided to try out for wrestling in eighth grade, and brought his seventh-grade brother Gary with him to Oldfield Junior High wrestling tryouts.

… that Cael Sanderson decided to pursue a career in coaching.

… that the USOPC and USA Wrestling are taking their responsibility for athlete safety very seriously, and that Safe Sport will make a positive impact on the lives of young people.

… for John Smith deciding to study how to shoot low on the leg, and for his creative experimentation on how to best finish a low single. And of course for his excellence, which makes him the GOAT of American wrestling.

… that ABC decided to cover wrestling big-time during the 1972 Olympic Games, and the world found out about Dan Gable and all of his teammates.

… that Rulon Gardner had no fear, especially on my 40th birthday on September 27, 2000, when Big Ru beat the undefeated superstar Alexander Karelin of Russia at the Olympic Games. Still love that cartwheel…

… that the early leaders and coaches in women’s wrestling decided that women should wrestle freestyle in college.

… that the wrestling community has developed a sophisticated understanding of the power of the internet, and that companies including Flowrestling and Trackwrestling became innovators in that space.

… for Bobby Douglas, and all he has meant to wrestling, and all he has done for wrestling.

… that Tricia Sanders and her family fought for her opportunity to wrestle as a youth, and that Tricia regained a passion for our sport after college, when she became a hero and trailblazer.

… that young stars like Henry Cejudo and Kyle Snyder combined their talent and a belief in themselves to win at a very young age, giving that same attitude and approach to so many emerging wrestlers on the scene today.

… that wrestling fans have made the NCAA Div. I Wrestling Championships a huge success and an annual sellout, and built a sports property that we can be proud of.

… that United World Wrestling decided, in order to help save the sport, that it would no longer use the scoring system used in tennis, and returned to using a cumulative score for international wrestling matches.

… and, that United World Wrestling decided to give two points for a takedown instead of one.

… for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the NWHOF Dan Gable Museum, for preserving the history of our great sport.

… for all of the college administrators that resisted the trend to drop college wrestling programs and decided to support the sport, and for all the college administrators that have shown wisdom by adding college wrestling programs over the last two decades.

… that digital photography was invented, and that so many talented wrestling people decided to pursue wrestling photography, giving our sport so many amazing images to help promote wrestling visually.

… for all of my head wrestling coaches, Dave Mayerson (junior high school), John Szokoli (high school), Fred Lett and Carl Adams (college). They not only taught me how to wrestle, but also taught me to respect and love wrestling.

… for what wrestling teaches young people, including dedication, determination, self confidence, goal setting, resilience, passion, discipline, work ethic, patience, toughness, teamwork and so much more.

… for international sport, which brings people together for fierce competition and creates goodwill and respect between cultures along the way.

… for Helen Maroulis, who shattered a barrier for U.S. women wrestlers by winning an Olympic gold medal, beating a three-time Olympic champion in the finals. It is not only her achievement, but how she handled that success, which is inspiring girls to pursue excellence in our sport.

… for all the people I have been honored to work alongside at USA Wrestling, and especially those who were my teammates in the Communications Department.

… that Dan Gable remains very active in wrestling, finding the time to get involved when asked, and continuing to be an amazing advocate for our sport in so many ways.

… for great wrestling leaders such as Myron Roderick, Dean Rockwell, Bob Dellinger, Bill Farrell, Ed Aliverti, Marv Hess, Set Agonian, Joe Seay, Dave Schultz, Lee Allen, Mike Duroe and so many others who were mentors and friends to me early in my career and are now deceased. I miss them dearly, and honor their legacy by doing my absolute best every single day.

… that there is no riding time in freestyle and Greco-Roman.

... for the support of my family throughout this crazy wrestling journey.

… for Jordan Burroughs, the athlete, the leader, the parent, the man. His impact on our sport has been immeasurable, and should continue long after he takes his last blast double leg.

… for all of the volunteers in wrestling who gave me the opportunity to compete in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and for the army of volunteers who have continued helping change lives for young people ever since.

… for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling, my favorite wrestling competition. It has more excitement and drama than any other tournament on earth, hands down.

… that Gary Kurdelmeier decided to hire me at USA Wrestling in 1988, and that my ensuing bosses Dave Miller, Jim Scherr and Rich Bender had faith in me and supported me over my three decades at USA Wrestling.

... for all of the people I have met through the great sport of wrestling.

… that (as Damion Hahn explained after winning a last-second NCAA finals match), as long as there is time on the clock, there is time to win the match.

… how Thanksgiving is a break in the season, when wrestlers can eat some food with family and friends, even when it means having to do some additional workouts.

… every time that the U.S. flag is raised and our national anthem is played at a World Championships or Olympic Games. It still brings tears to my eyes.

Note: I am thankful (and grateful) for so much more about wrestling, but these come to mind on Thanksgiving 2019. Thank you for indulging me and reading this today.