The Olympics are here! Which makes this the perfect time to highlight our very own Cyclone Olympians, information on and photos of whom can be found right here in the Special Collections Department. Originally I wanted to write about all of our Olympians, but there are just too many – we had four in the 2012 London Olympics alone! So, for sanity’s sake, I’m going to feature only our gold medalists. We have had seven gold medalists over the years, six of whom wrestled for the gold, and one who overcame many hurdles for it (literally). Banners dedicated to them currently hang in Hilton Coliseum. Read on to learn about our Iowa State Cyclone Olympic Gold Medalists.
Glen Brand, 1950
Glen Brand (Wrestling, 174 lbs, 1948): Originally from Clarion, Iowa, Brand (1950, Civil Engineering) wrestled for the Cyclones from 1946-1950. During that time, he lettered in 1946, 1947, 1948, and 1950. He placed 3rd in the NCAA Wrestling Championship in 1946, followed that up with 2nd place in 1947, and won the title in 1948. Also in 1948, he earned a spot at the London Olympics and later won gold in the 174 lb. class, returning home as a legend.
Dan Gable, 1969
Dan Gable (Wrestling, 149.5 lbs, 1972): Perhaps our most famous Olympian and wrestler, Gable (1971, Physical Education) was one of two Cyclones who won the gold in wrestling in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He never gave up a single point at the games that year. His college career was stellar as well: he was defeated only once, and that was in the NCAA finals his senior year. Gable came to ISU from Waterloo, Iowa, and wrestled for the Cyclones from 1966 to 1970, becoming a three-time Big 8 Champion (1968, 1969, 1970) and two-time NCAA Champion (1968, 1969). After graduating from ISU, he became head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, where his star continued to rise as he became the U of I’s all-time winningest coach from 1976-1997.
Ben Peterson, 1970
Ben Peterson (Wrestling, 198 lbs, 1972): Peterson (1972, Architecture) was also a Cyclone gold medalist at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He later went on to win the silver in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. From Comstock, Wisconsin, Peterson joined the ISU wrestling team in 1968 and wrestled through 1972. During his time here, he became a two-time NCAA Champion (1971 and 1972), a three-time Big 8 Champion (1970, 1972, 1973), and an Olympic gold medalist (1972). He is currently (2014) the only Cyclone wrestler to win 2 medals in the Olympic games.
Nawal El Moutawakel, 1984
Nawal El Moutawakel (Track and Field, 400 Meter Hurdles, 1984):
Our only non-wrestling Olympic gold medalist was El Moutawakel (1988, Physical Education), who won the top prize in the 400 meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She came from Casablanca, Morocco to Iowa State University in 1984. She ran track at ISU beginning that year until 1987. During that time, she won the 1984 NCAA 400 meter hurdle championship and became the second woman to win the Relays Triple (Texas, Kansas, and Drake relays). She overcame real-life hurdles as well while at ISU, losing her father, losing her coaches in a 1985 plane crash, and suffering a knee injury. On a happier note, however, she was not only the first Cyclone woman to win gold, she was the first African woman, Muslim woman, and Moroccan woman to win it as well.
Kevin Jackson, 1985
Kevin Jackson (Wrestling, 180.5 lbs, 1992):
ISU’s current wrestling coach, Jackson (1991, Human Sciences), won gold in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Originally from Lansing, Michigan, Jackson started his college career at LSU but when the school dropped their wrestling program, he transferred to ISU as a senior. He red-shirted at ISU during the 1985-1986 season and wrestled in the 1986-1987 season. That season he helped the Cyclone wrestling team win their most recent NCAA championship. Not only is he an Olympic gold medalist, but he is also a two-time World Champion in wrestling. He is one of just five wrestlers in United States history to have three career world-level titles. Jackson took over the head wrestling coach position from fellow Olympic champion Cael Sanderson in 2009.
Cael Sanderson, from the 1999-2000 media guide, RS 24/12/0/6, Box 1
Cael Sanderson (Wrestling, 185 lbs, 2004):
From Heber City, Utah, Sanderson (2002, Art and Design) joined the Iowa State wrestling team in 1997, red-shirting for that first season. He never lost a single match while wrestling for the Cyclones, breaking Dan Gable’s record. He also became a four-time NCAA Champion (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002) and four-time Big 12 Champion (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002). Sanderson won his gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. After graduating in 2002, Sanderson stayed on with the Cyclones and became head wrestling coach in 2004, leaving in 2009 for Penn State where he currently coaches.
Jake Varner, from the 2008-2009 media guide, RS 24/12/0/6, Box 2
Jake Varner (Wrestling, 211.5 lbs, 2012): Varner (2010, Criminal Justice) came to us from Bakersfield, California, in 2005. He red-shirted in the 2005-2006 season, and then wrestled for the Cyclones from 2006-2010. While at Iowa State he became a two-time NCAA Champion (2009, 2010), and a two-time Big 12 Champion (2008, 2010). Varner won his gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, becoming our latest Olympic champion.
With these seven and Iowa State’s many other Olympic athletes – including silver and bronze medalists – the Cyclones have a proud Olympic tradition going. More information on our Olympians can be found in an earlier blog post. We also have an entire blog post devoted to Dan Gable. Want to learn more about Iowa State’s wrestling program in general? We have programs, media guides, news clippings, and various subject files in RS 24/12 for your viewing pleasure. If women’s track and field is more appealing, we have news clippings, media guides, and subject files in RS 24/23. The finding aids for these and other Department of Athletics collections can be found here. Contact us or stop by, and we’ll happy to help you out! In the mean time, go enjoy the Olympics. USA! USA!