June 13, 2012
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. Today’s installment is a part of a “Best of” series being drawn from the 2011-12 athletics year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — As a competitor and coach, bronze wasn’t acceptable for Dan Gable. On April 18, that metal fit fine in the form of a statue that was unveiled outside the entrance to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Known more for stockpiling gold medals and trophies during an unprecedented wrestling career, Gable was honored with a life-sized bronze sculpture bearing his likeness during a 40-minute ceremony that included comments from University of Iowa President Sally Mason, director of athletics Gary Barta, and head wrestling coach Tom Brands.
The statue depicts a tie-clad Gable motioning for a referee to call stalling during a competition against Iowa State. As a UI head coach, Gable compiled a career record of 355-21-5 while leading the Hawkeyes from 1976-97. He coached 152 All-Americans, 106 Big Ten champions, 45 national champions and 10 Olympians, including four gold, one silver and three bronze medalists.
“This is the only bronze award that I will ever accept,” said Gable, referring to the color associated with a third-place award. “There is something higher in sport — nothing higher than this — but it would be funny if it was gold anyway, it might be worth more.”
Gable toted a pair of dark-colored shades to the podium in case he became overly emotional and needed to cover his eyes and regroup during the presentation. Although he said he experienced several “meltdowns” during the day, he didn’t need the sunglasses during the unveiling. He became reflective several times during his speech, especially when referring to family members — past and present.
“I just want you to know, and this is spooky,” Gable said. “For those that are strong in faith, this is my family right here, and what’s unbelievable, there are some empty chairs there. But if you want to take a picture of this family right here, if you take it, when that picture is developed, those empty seats are going to be filled with my mom, my dad and my sister (who are deceased). They’re going to be there. My mom knew I would be here today all along; my dad didn’t know it. He just celebrated a lot.”
Moments before the unveiling, Brands put several former and current Hawkeye wrestlers through a workout, four days before the beginning of the United States Olympic Wrestling Team Trials that will be held in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday and Sunday.
“I know when I walk into this building every day, coach Gable is with me in my mind because of the way we want to continue what he’s set for us…the tradition…and I can’t describe that,” Brands said. “The only thing I’ll say, and I’m talking to the statue right now is, `You better be tough because of what you represent.’ Go Gable and go Hawks.”
Mason was proud to honor Gable “today and forever” with the statue, and is excited that the thousands of visitors to the Trials will be greeted outside the doors to the arena by the new sculpture.
“Across the nation and around the world, you mention the University of Iowa and a number of areas of special excellence come into people’s minds, and one might very well be wrestling,” Mason said. “Athletics plays an important role at the University of Iowa; it teaches important lessons to our students: teamwork, leadership, discipline and the pursuit of excellence.
“One program holds a very special place in the annals of excellence that is Iowa athletics and that is wrestling. Just as many might think wrestling when you say Iowa, many will also immediately think Iowa when you say wrestling. The place and the sport are that intertwined.”
Barta referred to the unveiling as “yet another historic Hawkeye moment.”
“We have a slogan in the athletic department: today’s Hawkeyes are tomorrow’s leaders, and clearly the way Dan went about his business signifies that slogan with his passion, focus and his tenacious will to be the best,” Barta said. “There aren’t many people who can say they were the best in the world at what they did; Dan Gable can say that.”
Gable repeatedly mentioned the significance of the words engraved at the base of the statue: “(No) stalling…execute…contribute forever…in sport and in life.” He said he was known to persuade officials to warn his own wrestlers for stalling, and if done at the proper time, it would help his Hawkeyes realize important principles.
“When you hesitate, you have to think about what you want to be a part of,” Gable said. “If you want to be a part of things that are great, then you have to be contributors. That’s very important for everybody to understand. When you’re in a tough battle in your office, bring them over here and tell them to look down there and explain what that means. If they’re stalling on giving, tell them if they want to see the future..and if they don’t want to go along with it, tell them this guy is still alive.”
Gable said most times deceased people are memorialized by a statue, then announced that he is still alive, and that he was “always ahead of my time a little bit.”
And what about adding a statue or two of others to keep his replica company outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
“If this statue can represent excellence, let’s get somebody to beat that excellence,” Gable said. “I don’t care what sport it is, but if it’s Tom Brands, that would be great. For the future, over time, because it’s going to take a while, it’s going to take a few years, but let’s get some more.”