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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | BILL PLASCHKE

He's Got All the Angles Working on His Behalf

August 01, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE

ATLANTA — The match ended, the ugliness stalked out the back of the Georgia World Congress Center, and the Iranian wrestling advisor stood in a corridor trying to explain.

"They have deprived him of his rights," said Hussein Harasin of his 220-pound crybaby, Abbas Jadidi.

The advisor was asked if this was ample reason for Jadidi to have behaved so badly after losing the gold-medal match to Kurt Angle of the United States on an officials' decision.

"He did not respect the ruling, so this is what happens," Harasin said.

"Oh, yeah?"

Hussein's head jerked. Standing in front of him was a tall woman wearing shorts, a bikini-type top and a glare.

"Ask him why his guy wouldn't shake Kurt's hand. Go on, ask him!" the woman said.

Harasin continued staring. The woman was just getting started.

"How come his guy wasn't a gentleman on the medal stand? How come he looked at Kurt and shook his head during the anthem? Ask him!"

A pair of large but friendly arms encircled the woman and tried to pull her away. She brushed them away and remained, now speaking directly to Hussein.

"If Kurt had lost, he would have been a good sport!" she said. "I just want to know why your guy couldn't be a good sport!"

The arms reappeared and the woman was finally pulled back, but not without some final muttering.

"My family," said Angle with a sigh.

From the blue-collar neighborhoods of Pittsburgh they came, 25 of them, inexperienced in international affairs but smart enough to understand when somebody is tracking mud on your new linoleum.

And not too proud to ignore it.

"What the Iranian guy did, that is just not the way you act," said Nicole Ruf, longtime girlfriend of Kurt's brother, Eric. "I'm not going to sit still about it, I don't care who hears me."

She was the woman who confronted Harasin, unafraid because behind her were Kurt's four very large brothers, all of whom wrestle daily with lives that are far from the momentary glamour they found here.

Brothers Dave and John run cranes.

Mark is a boilermaker.

Eric owns Eric's Island Look Tanning and Nails shop, where he works with Nicole.

Sister Le'Anne is a respiratory therapist.

Mother Jackie is a retired secretary of a local chapter of the AFL-CIO.

And baby Kurt is "Hardie-Dar."

"That's what we call him because he stumbles around the house like a big clumsy dummy, you know, 'Hardie-Dar, Hardie-Dar,' " Eric said in a sing-song voice.

While Kurt was preparing for his championship match, some of them were in church, lighting candles.

When Kurt took the mat, some were kissing religious medals that hang around their necks.

When in victory, he wept, they all wept.

"My sister said, 'Gosh, I wish Daddy was here,' " Eric said. "I told her, 'Look around. He is here.' "

Daddy was their father, David Angle, a crane operator who died in 1985 when he fell 13 feet through a supposedly protected vault and landed on his head.

He stood up and told co-workers he was fine. They asked him to lie back down. Two hours later he was dead. He was that tough.

Kurt Angle was 15 at the time. Since then, he has wrestled only because his family has supported him.

Just this year, the family helped pay his travel expenses by filling the Castle Shannon Fire Hall at two star-studded events:

A spaghetti dinner and an oldies dance.

They are planning a similarly huge event when Kurt returns home.

Pondering the idea for a second, Eric said, "I think we'll have it at the fire hall."

Maybe afterward, the boys will wrestle. They still do, you know.

"I bit clear through my tongue last time we went at it," Eric said.

Kurt laughed.

"I'm a gold medalist today, but tomorrow I'll just be Kurt," he said. "Tomorrow, all my brothers will just beat me up again."

It was easier for him when his father was around.

"Dad used to call Kurt 'Baby Huey,' " Eric said. "But Kurt was always Dad's little buddy."

Kurt's father would return home late at night, weary from a day's work at a construction site, yet would run to the store to buy Kurt's favorite sweet cereal.

As tough as Kurt grew, his father always wanted to show him he could be tougher.

The family still laughs about the time Kurt, in high school, raised a huge welt on his dad's chest with one football pass, then broke the end of his finger with the next one. Between passes, his father never said a word.

At a postmatch news conference Wednesday night, a photographer asked Kurt to pose with his gold medal.

"Sorry," he said, holding out his hands with a funny smile. "I've already given it to my mom."

Sure enough, out in that corridor, she was wearing it proudly, encircled and embraced by 25 people with big arms, the Angles from Mount Lebanon, Pa., growing stronger still.

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