Photo of Steve Fraser after defeating Frank Andersson at the 1984 Olympic Games.
Before the world was turned upside-down by the COVID-19 global pandemic, this week was supposed to feature wrestling at the Tokyo Olympic Games. On this edition of #GrecoMonday, let’s examine the wrestlers who have brought home medals for the Red, White and Blue.
Steve Fraser – 1984 Olympic gold medalist at 90 kg
Fraser was the first American to earn a medal in Greco-Roman which also means he was the first U.S. Greco-Roman Olympic champion. A two-time All-American at Michigan, to make the Olympic Team, Fraser defeated Mike Houck in a best-of-three series. The following year in 1985, Houck would become the first U.S. Greco-Roman World champion.
On his run to the Olympic finals, Fraser defeated the legendary Frank Andersson of Sweden. Andersson was already a two-time Olympian, three-time World champion and two-time World silver medalist. He would battle back to finish with bronze. In the finals, Fraser defeated Ilie Matei, a 1981 World University Games champion and five-time World Team member.
Jeff Blatnick – 1984 Olympic gold medalist at 100+ kg
Shortly after Fraser became the first Olympic champion for the U.S., Blatnick became the second. Blatnick, a two-time DII NCAA champion for Springfield College, overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma before resuming his wrestling career and making the Olympic Team.
Blatnick, who also placed third at the 1977 Junior World Championships in freestyle, defeated Yugoslavia’s Refik Memisevic to win gold. Memisevic was a World champion, a two-time World silver medalist and a one-time World bronze medalist.
Blatnick passed away in 2012.
Greg Gibson – 1984 Olympic silver medalist at 100 kg
Not only did Gibson earn an Olympic silver in Greco-Roman, he was also a three-time World medalist in freestyle, earning silver in 1981 and 1983 and bronze in 1982. Additionally, he placed fourth at the 1981 World Championships in Greco-Roman.
To advance out of his pool, Gibson defeated 1983 World silver medalist Jozef Tertei of Yugoslavia. Tertei would end up taking bronze. In the finals, Gibson fell to Vasile Andrei of Romania, a 1980 Olympic bronze medalist, two-time World silver medalist, and one-time World bronze medalist.
Gibson, a two-time NCAA finalist for the University of Oregon, also competed in Sombo, a Russian combat sport comparable to catch wrestling. He won gold at the 1982 Sombo Championships, and was the only American to earn a medal.
Jim Martinez – 1984 Olympic bronze medalist at 68 kg
Martinez was a two-time All-American for Minnesota who made an incredibly successful transition into Greco-Roman. In addition to his Olympic bronze, Martinez also earned bronze at the 1985 World Championships and took gold at the 1985 World Super Championship. Martinez also competed at the 1983 and 1987 World Championships.
At the Olympics, Martinez lost in the pool to the 1983 World champion Tapio Sipila of Finland. Siplia would finish with silver and later win bronze at the 1988 Olympic Games. Additionally, Siplia was a two-time World silver medalist in 1981 and 1986.
In the bronze medal match, Martinez defeated Stefan Negrisan of Romania. Negrisan was a 1983 World bronze medalist and would earn World gold in 1985.
Dennis Koslowski – 1988 and 1992 Olympic bronze medalist at 100 kg
Koslowski is one of only two Americans to bring home Greco-Roman medals in two Olympic Games. He was also a silver medalist at the 1987 World Championships.
Koslowski was a two-time Division III NCAA champion for Minnesota-Morris. At the 1988 Olympics, Koslowski went 3-1 in his initial pool, falling only to the Soviet Union’s Guram Gedekhauri. Next he would fall to the eventual champion, Andrzej Wronski of Poland.
To make the bronze medal match, Koslowski defeated Jozef Tertei of Yugoslavia. The same wrestler Greg Gibson defeated in the 1984 Games. For bronze, Koslowski bested Julian Vasilev of Bulgaria. Vasilev took silver the following year at the 1985 World Championships.
In 1992, Koslowski went 4-0 to advance to the gold-medal match. In the opening round, Koslowski defeated one of the men that beat him at the 1988 Olympic Games, two-time Olympic champion Andrzej Wronski of Poland. In the finals, Koslowski fell to Hector Milian of Cuba. Milian won a World title in 1991 and was a three-time World silver medalist and one-time World bronze medalist.
Rodney Smith – 1992 Olympic bronze medalist at 68 kg
Smith was a two-time NCAA DII All-American for Western New England University. After finishing his collegiate career, Smith joined the military and became part of the Army World Class Athlete Program. Smith was a two-time Olympian, also finishing ninth at the 1996 Games. Additionally, Smith was a 1995 World Military Games silver medalist.
Smith went 3-0 in his pool at the 1992 Games before falling to the eventual champion Atilla Repka of Hungary. Repka was a 1990 World bronze medalist and would take silver at the 1995 World Championships. To make the bronze-medal match Smith defeated 1989 World silver medalist Ghani Yalouz of France. Yalouz would take silver at the 1996 Olympic Games and also earned silver at the 1994 World Championships and bronze at the 1993 World Championships.
To win bronze, Smith beat Cecilio Rodriguez of Cuba, who was the 1992 Pan Am Championships gold medalist.
Brandon Paulson – 1996 Olympic silver medalist at 52 kg
In addition to his Olympic silver, Paulson also earned a World silver medal at the 2001 World Championships and was a 1993 Espoir World silver medalist. An All-American at Minnesota, Paulson went 3-0 en route to the Olympic finals. Along the way, he defeated 1991 Junior World champion Ibad Akhmedov of Belarus.
In the gold medal match, Paulson fell to Armen Nazarian of Armenia. At the time, Nazarian was a two-time World silver medalist (1993, 1995). After the Games, Nazarian began to compete for Bulgaria. He would win another Olympic gold in 2000 and a bronze in 2004. Additionally, he would win three World titles (2002, 2003, 2005) and three World bronze medals (1997, 1998, 1999).
Dennis Hall – 1996 Olympic silver medalist at 57 kg
A year after becoming only the second World champion in U.S. Greco history, Hall won a silver medal at the Olympics. This was Hall’s second Olympic Games. He had previously competed in the 1992 Olympics, finishing eighth. Hall would also wrestle in the 2004 Olympic Games, defeating Brandon Paulson in a best-of-three series to make the team. Hall was also a 1994 World bronze medalist.
At the 1996 Olympics, Hall went 3-0, defeating numerous hammers to make the finals. In his opening match he defeated Seref Eroglu of Turkey. The following year, Eroglu would become a World Champion. He would also earn silver at the 2004 Olympic Games and the 1998 and 1999 World Championships. Hall followed that up with a semifinal victory over Zetiang Sheng over China. Sheng was a 1992 Olympic bronze medalist. Sheng would end up taking bronze in 1996 and once again in 2000. He also placed second at the 1998 World Championships.
In the finals, Hall fell to Yuriy Melnichenko of Kazakhstan. Originally from the Soviet Union, Melnichenko began competing for Kazakhstan in 1994 and won a World Title. He followed it up with a silver medal at the 1995 World Championships, where he was bested by Hall. Melnichenko won another World title in 1997 and another World silver in 1999.
Matt Ghaffari – 1996 Olympic silver medalist at 130 kg
Last month, USA Wrestling’s Taylor Miller did a #ThrowbackThursday History Lesson on Ghaffari. Check it out here. In addition to his Olympic silver, Ghaffari, an NCAA qualifier for Cleveland State, claimed two World silvers (1991, 1998) and one World bronze (1995). On his way to the finals, Ghaffari went 3-0 with a victory over Ukraine’s 1994 World bronze medalist Piotr Kotok.
In the finals, Ghaffari fell to the legendary Aleksandr Karelin (more on him later), in a tightly contested, 1-0, match.
Rulon Gardner – 2000 Olympic gold medalist at 130 kg and 2004 Olympic bronze medalist at 120 kg
The most famous U.S. Greco wrestler in history, Gardner knocked off three-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time World Champion Aleksandr Karelin in one of the biggest upsets in sports history in the 2000 Olympic finals. Before making the finals Gardner, who was an NJCAA champion for Ricks College and a DI All-American for Nebraska, went 4-0, notably besting 1998 World bronze medalist Youri Evseytchik of Israel. To even make the team, Gardner had to defeat the 1996 Olympic silver medalist Matt Ghaffari in a best-of-three series.
Gardner followed up his Olympic gold with a World title in 2001. To make the 2004 Olympic Team, Gardner defeated 2002 World Champion Dremiel Byers, who would later go on to become a two-time Olympian himself.
In 2004, Gardner went 3-0 in his pool, notably defeating 1996 Olympic bronze medalist, two-time World silver medalist and one-time World bronze medalist Sergej Mureiko of Bulgaria (formerly the Soviet Union and Moldova) and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Mindaugas Mizgaitis of Lithuania.
In the semifinals, Gardner fell to 2003 World bronze medalist Georgi Tsurtsumia of Kazakhstan, who would finish with silver. In the bronze-medal match, Rulon defeated Saijad Barzi of Iran.
Matt Lindland – 2000 Olympic silver medalist at 76 kg
Current National Greco-Roman Head Coach Matt Lindland was one of the best Greco wrestlers in U.S. history before he began his coaching career. In addition to his Olympic silver, Lindland was a 2001 World silver medalist. Collegiately, Lindland was an NJCAA champion for Clackamas Community College and a Big 8 champion for Nebraska.
Lindland went 4-0 to reach the gold-medal match. There he fell to Mourat Kardanov of Russia. Kardanov was a 1991 Espoir World champion and a 1993 World bronze medalist.
Garrett Lowney – 2000 Olympic bronze medalist at 97 kg.
Lowney won his Olympic bronze medal at only 20-years old, after becoming the youngest Greco-Roman Olympian in U.S. history. A 1999 Junior World Champion, Lowney would go on to twice earn All-American honors for Minnesota. Lowney also made the 2004 Olympic Team.
At the 2000 Olympic Games, Lowney shocked the world, defeating five-time World champion and 1992 Olympic bronze medalist Gogi Koguashvili of Russia in the early rounds. Lowney also bested Marek Švec of the Czech Republic, a 1998 World silver medalist, who would go on to take Olympic bronze in 2008. Additionally, Svec claimed silver at the 2006 World Championships and bronze at the 2007 World Championships. In the semifinals, Lowney fell to Mikael Ljungberg of Sweden, a 1996 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time World Champion, who would end up taking gold. Ljungberg was also a 1999 World bronze medalist.
In his bronze medal match, Lowney defeated Thanos Konstantinos of Greece.
Adam Wheeler – 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 96 kg
Wheeler was the most recent Greco-Roman medalist for Team USA, taking bronze in 2008. He attended Northern Michigan University focusing solely on Greco-Roman in college. Wheeler upset 2005 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz to make the Olympic Team.
In the opening round, Wheeler knocked off Hungary’s Lajos Virag, a 2005 World silver medalist. In the semifinals, Wheeler lost to Mirko Englich of Germany. Wheeler claimed his bronze medal with a victory over Han Tae-Young of South Korea, a 2006 Asian Games champion.