Olympic wrestling in Minnesota dates back to 1948 when Verne Gagne (left in picture) became the first Minnesotan to make the U.S. Olympic team. He faced Henry Wittenberg (pictured, far right) in the finals of the freestyle Olympic team trials and lost in a controversial referee’s decision. Wittenberg went on to win the Olympic gold medal in 1948 and to be enshrined in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. The selection process at that time made the freestyle runner-up the Greco Roman representative.
As a Greco Roman Olympian, Gagne traveled to London by ocean liner with the 1948 U.S. Olympic team and trained aboard the ship. When they arrived in London, the coaching staff decided the Greco Roman team would not be competitive and would not let the athletes compete. Gagne is still mad about this decision. As a student-athlete he was a two-time NCAA national champion for the University of Minnesota in 1948 and 1949.
He became a professional wrestler near the end of his amateur career and quickly emerged as one of the most well-known stars in wrestling during the golden age of television. He was known around the world as a professional wrestler and he inspired several generations of Minnesotans to try amateur wrestling.
Alan Rice soon followed and became the first Minnesotan to compete in the Olympic Games when he qualified for the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. When Alan retired from competition, he became the driving force behind starting the Minnesota Amateur Wrestling Club. He received strong support from Verne Gagne in this effort.
Alan’s legacy as a contributor to the Olympic wrestling landscape has grown with each passing generation of wrestling in Minnesota.
The history of wrestling in Minnesota, where many athletes have pursued their Olympic dreams, is highlighted by several Hall of Fame careers, individual and team national championships, and World and Olympic medals.
Some of the many highlights of the history of wrestling in Minnesota include:
- We represented the United States in every Olympics from 1968-2016.
- The 1976 U.S. Olympic wrestling team included 6 members from Minnesota.
- The United State’s first Greco Roman World Champion grew up and trained in Minnesota. (Mike Houck, 1985)
- The United State’s youngest wrestling Olympian grew up and trained in Minnesota. (Jake Dietchler, 2008)
- The first two coaches to fill the position of Head Coach of the U.S. Greco Roman National Team trained in MN. (Dennis Koslowski and Mike Houck)
- We won 16 consecutive Greco Roman national team championships from 1968-1983.
- Minnesotans have filled 9 U.S. Olympic team coaching positions. (Alan Rice, Dan Chandler, Brandon Paulson)
- Minnesota has represented the United States in 95 percent (37of 40) of wrestling’s World Championships since 1966.
So many statistics could be cited, but the full history of wrestling in Minnesota isn’t captured in accolades or medals that generations of wrestlers have won on the mat. The experiences shared by these athletes in their journeys to the top of the podium could fill countless pages of history. The richness of their journey is revealed in lifelong friendships and lasting memories of their accomplishments.
The legacy of wrestling in Minnesota continues in our current athletes at the Minnesota Training Center as they prepare to win Olympic gold in 2024.
We are forever grateful to our sponsors, our alumni and our fans who believe in the MTC and the commitment of our athletes to demonstrate personal, community and athletic excellence.
We encourage fans to peruse our Legends page for more information on wrestlers who represented Minnesota in their careers and competed for the United States in the World Championships or the Olympic Games.