His name is known around the world and his exploits as a professional wrestler have taken him around the world several times, made him a very wealthy man and a hero to millions of fans who follow the sport, but Kurt Angle’s greatest thrill as an athlete has nothing to do with the squared circle.
A man who is as patriotic as they come and whose tears of joy after winning the Olympic Gold medal in the heavyweight freestyle division at the 1996 Atlanta Games sent chills through the millions of Americans who witnessed it, says professional titles aside, representing his nation said nothing compares to being an Olympic champion from the United States.
“I get asked that question quite often. What was the single greatest achievement of my career? Was it winning the WWE title? Was it winning the TNA heavyweight championship? No, it was winning the Olympic Gold medal. It defined my career. It defined my life,” Angle said. “Aside from being a dad four times with a fifth one on the way, it’s the highlight.”
Now 47 and still one of the most famous professional athletes on the planet, Angle, a six-time WWF-WWE world champion and six-time TNA world heavyweight champion, is taking 2016 off to spend time with his family and to “let his body heal.”
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But on Friday, Angle helped the Frontier League’s Gateway Grizzlies get off to a red, white and blue start to their Fourth of July weekend celebration.
Angle, dressed in red, white and blue Grizzlies jersey, was on hand to throw out the first pitch as Gateway took on the River City Rascals in the friendly confines of GCS Ballpark before a paid crowd of more than 6,100 fans. Angle enjoyed every minute of it.
Angle posed for pictures with fans. He put Gateway mascot Izzy the Grizzlie in a headlock. He met with the media before the game. Angle then signed autographs during the game, which Gateway won 5-3.
He said he is keeping busy despite not being active on the mat.
“I’m taking the year off but I’m also keeping my face out there with public appearances. I was in the United Kingdom last week, and then New York and now here tonight,” Angle said. “It’s great to be here and watch the Grizzlies play. This (St. Louis) area has always been a great wrestling city. It’s been a few years — probably six or seven years — since we did our last show here. It’s great to be back.”
Although Angle has made his fame and fortune through professional wrestling and competing around the world, his wrestling career began in Mount Lebanon (Penn.) High School.
A dominant amateur career
After winning the Pennsylvania heavyweight state championship as a senior in high school, Angle attended Clarion University. There he won two NCAA Division I national championships and was a three time All-American. In addition, Angle was the 1987 USA Junior Freestyle champion, a two-time USA Senior Freestyle champion, and the 1988 USA Junior World Freestyle champion.
Angle then continued to wrestle after college and won the FILA World Championship before beginning training for the 1996 Olympic Games.
During the Olympic Trials, Angle suffered a broken neck, but continued to wrestle and won the heavyweight division, earning a berth on the Olympic team.
“It was a great, but very painful time in my life. I wrestled twice at the trials and then five times at the Olympic Games and I had shots of novacaine each time I wrestled,” Angle said. “The tough part of was getting medical clearance to be able to compete with a broken neck. I saw countless doctors before I finally found someone who would take a chance on me.”
With medical clearance and his broken neck, Angle defeated Iran’s Abbas Jadidi to win the 198-220 pound Olympic gold medal. The picture of an emotional Angle falling to his knees after winning the championship was one of the great memories of the Olympiad.
“What really stands out to me was that I was able to win the gold medal in the United States — the greatest nation on earth,” Angle said. “To be able win it in front of our fans was indescribable. It was a great advantage for all of us to be able to compete at home.”
Angle is one of very few to win the grand slam of wrestling — junior nationals, NCAA, World Championships, and the Olympics. He was one of just four medal winners on the United States Olympic freestyle wrestling team in 1996.
He said he will be watching the upcoming 2016 Games in Rio De Janeiro.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how we do in the Olympic Games this summer. I hear there are a number of outstanding wrestlers,” Angle said. “I don’t know if they will do as well as we did. The ’96 team was a very special group of wrestlers.”
Later in 1996, Angle began his professional wrestling career competing in Extreme Championship Wrestling. He then signed an eight-year contract with the World Wrestling Federation in 1998 and won the WWF title for the first time when he defeated Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in 2000.
He has held every belt offered by the WWE and wrestled against all the top names in his career.
He became a huge star in the pro game and one fans enjoyed watching perform whether it was talking on the microphone or competing on the mat.
“Wrestling professionally is a great life, but it’s also a very grueling and demanding lifestyle we as wrestlers go through,” Angle said. “I mean we’re on the road constantly, doing between 250 to 300 shows each year. Hitting the mat as much as we do, it takes its toll on us physically.
“That’s why I said, I’m taking this year off to let my body rest and heal.”