CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Kurt Angle collapsed to his knees, tears of joys streaming down his ruddy cheeks, palms pressed together.
He did it, overcoming excruciating pain from two broken vertebrae in his neck suffered at the Olympic trials, to win the gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Yes, he did it, 25 years ago. Angle brought a championship home to Clarion University.
(Pictured, Kurt Angle during his wrestling days at Clarion University/courtesy of the PSAC)
“On this day, 25 years ago, I won the Olympic Gold in freestyle wrestling,” Angle posted on Twitter Saturday, the anniversary of his feat. He then posted the hashtag #withabrokenfreakinneck.
Just to compete, Angle needed 12 shots of Novocain to numb the pain when he took the mat. It worked, but left Angle in unbearable pain once the drug wore off.
In the final against Abbas Jadidi of Iran, the two wrestlers were locked in an epic battle with no regulation winner.
Tied 1-1 in overtime, the referee awarded Angle a decision over Jadidi.
He still proudly wears that gold medal from time to time today.
A 1992 graduate with a degree in geology, Angle showed off his wrestling chops with the Golden Eagles for four years. He was a two-time Eastern Wrestling League and three-time Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Wrestler of the Year.
At the end of his senior year, he won the second of his two Division I national championships at heavyweight.
“This gave me the confidence to go to the next level,” Angle tweeted about that title recently, “which was the World Championships (and) Olympics.”
Angle won the world title in 1995, setting the stage for his 1996 Summer Games gold.
Angle went on to a long career in the WWE and briefly launched a bid in 2012 to return to the Olympics, but had to give up on that dream because of a knee injury.
It all started for Angle when he was 7 and took to the wrestling mat for the first time. As a senior at Mt. Lebanon High School near Pittsburgh, he won the PIAA Class AAA heavyweight title, finally breaking through after failing to place as a sophomore and taking third as a junior.
“This was the very beginning of many titles I would conquer in my wrestling career,” said Angle of his state championship recently on Twitter.
As the Tokyo Olympics enter their final week, it’s interesting to note how many other former Clarion University athletes and coaches have made an impact in Summer Games of the past:
• Following a successful career on the wrestling mat for the Golden Eagles, Bekzod Abdurakhmonov took his place in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to compete for his home country, Uzbekistan.
Abdurakhmonov routed gold medalist Jordan Burroughs of the United States, 11-1, but fell in the bronze-medal match to Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan.
A 2012 graduate with a degree in sports management, Abdurakhmonov received his degree in sports management from Clarion University in 2012.
• Jeanne O’Connor was an 11-time Division II National Champion and a seven-time second place national finisher in the backstroke, butterfly, individual medley and freestyle events for the Clarion women’s swimming and diving team from 1980-1984.
She qualified and swam in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials in the backstroke. She earned her degree in management from Clarion in 1984.
• Under Ernestine Weaver’s watch as a head coach for the Clarion women’s gymnastic team from 1970 to 1972 and again from 1974 to 1979, the Golden Eagles’ program was considered among the best in the nation.
Weaver served as an assistant coach of the 1976 United States gymnastics team and was the head coach of the 1980 team.
• An outstanding diver at Clarion University, Barbara Schaefer Nejman competed in the Olympic trials in 1972 and was a member of the USA Olympic Diving Team in Montreal in 1976.
A 1989 Clarion University Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Nejman earned her degree in elementary education from the school in 1972.
• The architect of the Golden Eagles’ nationally recognized men’s and women’s diving program, Don Leas had a stellar 24-year career from 1966 to 1990. His divers won 36 individual national championships.
Leas was in charge of the diving competition in the Summer Games in Atlanta in 1996 and served as International Chairman of Diving for the World University Games.