U.S. wrestling looks to reap harvest of gold Coach nurtures talent on Pennsylvania farm


July 16, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

NEWTON SQUARE,PA. — Newtown Square, Pa. -- Maple trees outline the driveway that goes through the 800-acre estate of Foxcatcher Farm. This is a place where a hundred Canada geese laze around the pond, horses graze in the meadow and a lot of U.S. Olympians make a pit stop on the road to the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

There's a 40,000-square-foot training center on the estate, complete with gymnasium, swimming pool, full-time training staff, state-of-the-art computers, weight rooms and wrestling rooms.

Nearly 50 men are in one room, either jogging, stretching or groaning -- and definitely sweating. Everyone seems to have a bent back, a smashed nose, a protruding chin and bowed arms.

What's going on? The cauliflower ears are a clue.

Hey, isn't that John Smith, the world's best wrestler, on the treadmill? Isn't that gold-medal winner and three-time Olympic heavyweight Bruce Baumgartner leg-pressing 500 pounds? Is that Olympic gold medalist Kenny Monday doing arm curls?

"You know, this is the best place we've ever trained," said Smith, recently selected as the International Wrestler of the Year, a first for an American. "We've got one of the greatest coaches in the world, and this is the best team we've ever sent to the Olympics, a complete blend of experience, power and finesse.

"Except for the Dream Team, this may be America's next strongest team," said Smith. "We should dominate everybody except the Russians. And we can beat the Russians. No, we will beat the Russians."

It's a confidence shared by all of Smith's teammates. Never has a U.S. freestyle team carried such great credentials. Smith (136.5 pounds), Baumgartner (286) and Monday (163) have won Olympic gold.

Smith, Baumgartner, Monday, Kevin Jackson (180.5), Zeke Jones (114.5) and Chris Campbell (198) are either current or former world champions. Lightweight Tim Vanni (105.5 pounds) lost in the bronze medal match in the 1988 Olympics.

"There aren't many teams that have six out of 10 wrestlers who have won world championships," said Jones. "If you win a world championship, you can win the gold. On paper, there is unlimited potential for bringing home a lot of hardware. It's just a matter of us, as well as the coaching staff, bringing that talent to the surface at the right time."

Coach raised to be tough

U.S. Olympic wrestling coach Bobby Douglas hardly ever smiles.

Six of his seven brothers and sisters died of childhood diseases before they were 4 years old. When Douglas, the youngest and only one fortunate enough to be born in a hospital, was 3, he watched as his mother was stabbed 11 times in their Cincinnati apartment.

She would die nearly a year later.

Douglas, whose father was in prison, eventually moved with his grandparents to a coal-mining village in Blaine, Ohio. The house was one shack among 32. They didn't have running water or indoor plumbing. Douglas often walked the railroad tracks looking for loose coal to help heat the house.

"You don't see a lot of black men smiling," said Douglas, 50, after a recent team workout. "I was as poor as a church mouse. I can't remember the next three years of my life after my mother was stabbed. When I finally came out of shock, I didn't think I was going to have in for a very good life."

Bobby Douglas knows God, opportunity and wrestling.

"My grandparents were religious people, and I try to live by the Ten Commandments," said Douglas, an assistant coach on the 1988 Olympic team and head coach of the 1991 Pan American squad. "That has helped me to make it. I've been fortunate enough to work hard, get an education and have opportunities JTC through wrestling. That scowl on my face? It usually means I'm consumed with wrestling or thoughts about my family or friends. I smile around people who know me, but only after the job is done."

Douglas learned the sport as a youngster, hanging around his grandfather and other men on street corners during weekends. In 1958, he became the first black to win an Ohio state high school title, in the 112-pound class, and earned a scholarship to Oklahoma State, where he helped the Cowboys to a 1964 NCAA title.

Douglas was named America's best wrestler in 1970, the same year he retired with a 303-17-7 record. But the biggest wins eluded him.

He finished fourth in the 1964 Olympic Games, and broken ribs kept him from winning a gold medal in the 1968 Games.

But Douglas, the coach at Iowa State, is still on a mission.

"I suffered through seven world championships listening to the Russian national anthem being played," said Douglas, the first black to wrestle on the U.S. Olympic team, as well as the first black head coach in NCAA Division I and Olympic wrestling. "I wanted to beat that Russian system. After I was no longer a competitor, I knew there was only one way to do that, and that was as a coach. I consider myself very fortunate to be named coach of this team. I'm committed, focused and ready to get the job done."

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