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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Today's Closeup : FREESTYLE
WRESTLING

Baumgartner's Golden Quest Amended to Bronze By Defeat

August 02, 1996|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Bruce Baumgartner, old man in the oldest of sports, lost his chance to become the first American freestyle wrestler to win three Olympic gold medals but still has a chance to make history.

Baumgartner, 35, was upset by Russian Andrei Shumilin, 6-1, on Thursday, meaning the best he can do is win the bronze medal.

Nonetheless, Baumgartner, the U.S. flag bearer in the opening ceremonies, has a chance to run another banner up the pole when medals are awarded in the 286-pound class at the Georgia World Congress Center.

If he wins the bronze, Baumgartner will become only the sixth American to win medals in four Olympics, joining Francis Conn Findlay (rowing/yachting), Al Oerter (track and field), Michael Plumb (equestrian), Norbert Schemansky (weightlifting) and, most recently, Carl Lewis (track and field).

A five-time world champion who has not lost a match to an American since 1981, Baumgartner also has a chance to displace former Soviet legend Alexander Medved as history's greatest freestyle wrestler.

Medved competed in the 1960s and '70s at 220 pounds and as a heavyweight.

Baumgartner's 1995 World Championship tied Medved for the most world-level medals, with 12. Each has won three golds and nine world championships.

Baumgartner, if he medals, can stand alone.

It has already been a successful and emotional Olympics for the U.S. freestyle team, which on Tuesday won two gold medals and a silver, led by Kurt Angle's judges' decision victory over Iran's Abbas Jadidi in the 220-pound class.

It was a surprising medal haul. Most thought the United States wouldn't have a chance to win multiple medals until today's sessions, which include heavy hitters Baumgartner, Melvin Douglas (198 pounds) and Kenny Monday (163). Angle was a close friend and former Team Foxcatcher clubmate of Dave Schultz, murdered last Jan. 26. John E. duPont, the millionaire who formed Foxcatcher, has been charged with the crime.

Baumgartner and Schultz go back to 1984, when they entered the Los Angeles Games as wide-eyed kids not knowing what to expect. Both won gold medals, Schultz in the 163-pound class, Baumgartner at 286.

Baumgartner went on to win another gold at the 1988 Seoul Games and a silver at Barcelona in 1992.

Baumgartner has garnered 17 national senior titles, the 1995 Sullivan Award and has not lost two matches in a calendar year since 1983. Yet, he has remained a humble, gracious and respected champion.

Baumgartner has never been able to cash in on his success. He started out a commoner and remains one, the proud son of a diesel mechanic from New Jersey who met his wife at a Waffle House.

He and Linda and two sons--Bryan and Zachary--live quiet and modestly in Cambridge Springs, Pa. Baumgartner is the wrestling coach at Edinboro University.

In this new age of crass commercialism and Olympic profiteering, Baumgartner remains a throwback.

"The Olympics was always a place for true amateurism," he says. "There was never any money involved. Now, it's sort of lost that. It's a showcase for a lot of other things. That's too bad."

Although this would appear to be Baumgartner's farewell, he hasn't counted himself out for the Sydney Games of 2000, at which time he would be pushing 40.

But first things first.

Baumgartner is taking it one date with destiny at a time.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

FREESTYLE WRESTLING / Going for Four

If U.S. super-heavyweight Bruce Baumgartner (right) can win a bronze medal in freestyle wrestling today, he will join a select group.

MEDAL WINNERS IN 4 OLYMPICS

Athlete: Conn Findlay

Country: U.S.

Sport: Rowing/yachting

Years (Medals): 1956 (gold), 1960 (bronze), 1964 (gold), 1976 (bronze, yachting)

*

Athlete: Al Oerter

Country: U.S.

Sport: Track & field/Discus

Years (Medals): 1956 (gold), 1960 (gold), 1964 (gold), 1968 (gold)

*

Athlete: Michael Plumb

Country: U.S.

Sport: Equestrian

Years (Medals): 1964 (silver), 1968 (silver), 1972 (silver), 1976 (gold, bronze)

*

Athlete: Norbert Schemansky

Country: U.S.

Sport: Weightlifting

Years (Medals): 1948 (silver), 1952 (gold), 1960 (bronze), 1964 (bronze)

*

Athlete: Carl Lewis

Country: U.S.

Sport: Track & field

Years (Medals): 1984 (4 gold), 1988 (2 gold, silver), 1992 (2 gold), 1996 (gold)

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