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Angle reflects on travels through world of wrestling

Photo for the Mirror by Rob Lynn Legendary wrestler Kurt Angle throws out the first pitch at the Altoona Curve game Saturday at PNG Field.

By John Hartsock

jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

The transition from amateur to professional wrestling can be a very difficult and taxing one, but Kurt Angle accomplished it seamlessly.

Angle was on hand to discuss that, along with many other viewpoints about his illustrious wrestling career, Saturday at Peoples Natural Gas Field, after having thrown out the first pitch for the Altoona Curve’s Eastern League game against Harrisburg.

After having sufficiently recovered from a broken neck to win a gold medal in freestyle wrestling for the United States in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Angle — a former PIAA high wrestling heavyweight champion at Mount Lebanon and two-time NCAA Division I national heavyweight champ at Clarion University — went on to an equally successful 21-year pro wrestling career.

Though the differences between amateur and pro wrestling are pronounced, Angle caught on to the pro circuit like a fish taking to water.

“The problem with amateur wrestlers before me having such a difficult time crossing over into the professional ranks is that they didn’t want to let go of what they what they were doing,” Angle, who has been retired from the pro wrestling circuit since 2019, said.

“As an amateur wrestler, you don’t show any emotion, fear or excitement,” added Angle, now 53 and living in the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon Township. “You go by instinct. You go out there and do the job, and try to get the pin and the match is over.”

Pro wrestling is much different.

“In pro wrestling, you have to show fear, excitement, anger,” Angle said. “In amateur wrestling, you’re taught not to get slammed, so you don’t allow people to slam you. If you’re not able to let go of that instinct, you won’t be able to do pro wrestling. It can become a very big adjustment. But what I did at the pro level is that I forgot everything that I ever learned at the amateur level, and everything about pro wrestling came to me very quickly.”

After winning World Championship matches over pro wrestling legends Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin early in his pro career, Angle became a professional star himself, earning induction into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame in 2017.

Back in 2006, Angle jumped ship from the WWE – which had formerly been known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). He went on to star in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), which is now known as Impact Wrestling, becoming a six-time TNA world heavyweight champion and earning induction into the TNA Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013.

Angle, wrestling as a pro, won 13 World Championships.

“I thought that I was just going to be a fill-in guy, but I didn’t realize that I had the talent for entertainment inside of me,” Angle said. “Amateur wrestling is the real deal, and pro wrestling is obviously entertainment. I became very entertaining – I was able to do funny stuff, serious stuff, dramatic stuff. I became a student of the game.”

Angle – who is married and is the father of five — benefited from building a good foundation. After training under the late United States Olympic freestyle wrestling gold medalist Dave Schultz at the Foxcatcher Farms estate in suburban Philadelphia, Angle won the gold medal in the July 1996 Summer Games at Atlanta’s Centennial Park in the 198-220 pounds (90-100 kilograms) freestyle competition via an officials decision over Iran’s Abbas Jadidi.

Angle dedicated his championship performance to Schultz, who was the victim of a tragedy that made national headlines when he was shot to death by millionaire Foxcatcher Farms owner John du Pont on the Foxcatcher grounds in January of 1996.

“Dave was the greatest wrestler that I’ve ever known,” Angle said of Schultz. “When I got out of college, I was a two-time NCAA champion weighing 210 pounds. He weighed 160 pounds at that time, and he whipped my butt.

“He taught me everything that I know, and it took me awhile before I was able to beat him,” Angle added. “But I dedicated my Olympic gold medal to him because if I didn’t have a coach like him, I wouldn’t have won that gold medal.”

Schultz’s murder kicked off a turbulent and traumatic year for Angle, who later in 1996 found himself in the midst of a domestic terrorist attack at the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta that claimed one life directly and injured over 100 other people. Another person died of a heart attack following the incident.

“The thing that stood out for me about those Olympics was the bombing,” Angle said. “That bombing really set off the whole city. We were all really nervous that it might happen again. We were in lockdown for about a half a day. It was a really scary time.”

Angle – who was also inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame in 2016 for his amateur wrestling accomplishments — believes that United States wrestling on the Olympic level is currently the best that it’s ever been. As another Fourth of July Independence Day holiday dawns on America this morning, Angleremains grateful that he had the opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S.A. over 25 years ago.

“It was a huge moment for me to represent the greatest country in the world in 1996 and to win a gold medal,” Angle said. “It was a dream come true.”

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