Trying to break hold of horror USA Wrestling: After losing an Olympic champion and a top benefactor in the Schultz-du Pont tragedy, the nation's wrestling program seeks to recover.

February 05, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The officials from USA Wrestling who met this weekend in New Orleans were dealing with much the same agenda as the wrestlers who will gather later this month at a training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. And at the top of it was the question of how to move past the recent fatal shooting of ex-Olympic champion Dave Schultz allegedly by the sport's biggest benefactor, millionaire John du Pont.

Both emotionally and financially, Schultz's death and du Pont's apparent involvement were a powerful 1-2 punch to a sport that had begun to sustain its success in international competition and also gain some economic stability.

How long it takes the sport to recover from this tragedy could have a significant effect on how well the U.S. team does this summer at the Olympics in Atlanta.

"The financial impact will be minimal," said Lehigh wrestling coach Greg Strobel, who served as national team director for USA Wrestling from 1983 through 1991 and was, until last summer, a resident coach at the state-of-the-art training facility on du Pont's Pennsylvania estate.

"This being an Olympic year, there's extra funding available. And du Pont had not made any contributions since last summer. We had other things ready to roll."

Though du Pont's contributions had been significant -- nearly $3 million since 1987, including $400,000 annually since 1989 -- officials say it represented only 6 percent of USA Wrestling's budget.

Strobel and others would rather point to the larger, more incalculable loss, that of the hugely popular and widely respected Schultz, who was 36. Schultz, who finished fifth in last year's World Championships in Atlanta, provided younger team members with leadership and coaching.

"This will have an impact on the guys who worked with Dave," said Kurt Angle, who is ranked No. 1 in the world at 220 pounds. "Everyone went to Dave for something."

Angle had worked out periodically during the past five years with Schultz at du Pont's Foxcatcher National Training Center in suburban Philadelphia, site of the Jan. 26 shooting. Once the main training facility for some 70 elite wrestlers, it had only four at the time of Schultz's death.

"I will probably do a lot of training on my own," said Angle, who often made the five-hour commute from his Pittsburgh home. "For now, I'll have people come up here to train with me."

According to Larry Sciacchetano, president of USA Wrestling, the three elite wrestlers who were left without a place to train could move to the University of Pennsylvania.

They might not make out as well financially -- receiving a stipend of anywhere from $250 to $650 a month, depending on their ranking, compared with a reported $1,000-a-month-plus expenses from du Pont -- but those familiar with the atmosphere at Foxcatcher say they should be better off.

"The atmosphere there had deteriorated badly the past few months," said one nationally ranked wrestler who left Foxcatcher within the past year. "There were a lot of distractions with du Pont. It was amazing that Dave and the other guys were able to train under those conditions."

But Kevin Jackson, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist at 180.5 pounds and current world champion, disagreed on the options open to the wrestlers. After being ordered by du Pont to leave the Foxcatcher team last June, Jackson took more than three months to find another club to pick up his training expenses.

"There are not a lot of places for elite wrestlers to go," said Jackson, who is working out of the Sunkist club in Phoenix. "And there's not much time before the national championships and the Olympic trials. If they can't find a place, their careers might be over."

And those who do find a site, will not find a mentor like Schultz.

When Schultz failed to make the Olympic team at 180.5 pounds in 1992, he went to Barcelona, Spain, and coached several wrestlers, including Jackson. "He would beat me up in practice, and show me moves I used to win the gold medal," Jackson said. "He forgot more wrestling than most good wrestlers ever knew."

Schultz, a 1984 gold medalist, went back down to 163 pounds after his try for Barcelona and regained his No. 1 national ranking in 1993. Despite his death, the United States still is expected to be a veteran team, now led by two-time Olympic champion Bruce Baumgartner, 34.

"It will give us a whole new motivation," Jackson said of Schultz's death. "He was a man's man, a wrestler's wrestler. In training, we'll get that extra push for Dave, that extra rep in the weight room, that extra lap on the track.

"I can't remember a training camp where Dave didn't play a big part. We're going to miss him, but we're going to move on. That's what he would have wanted."

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