Bruce Baumgartner, regarded as the greatest freestyle heavyweight wrestler in American history, will be the guest celebrity at the 32nd annual Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet on Feb. 18 at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Club.
"We are thrilled to have Bruce as the guest speaker for our induction dinner," said Randy Anderson, CSHOF president. "Not only did he win a combined 13 Olympic and World medals, Bruce was also one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of the sport. His appearance will add a special touch to the induction of Ron Blackmer, Cal Cederquist, the late Jim Foti, Dan Palmer, Walt Thurnau and Jim Young."
Baumgartner, the director of athletics at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, affirmed his status as the greatest freestyle heavyweight wrestler in American history by winning the bronze medal at the Centennial Olympic Games at Atlanta after capturing the 1995 World Championship.
Before taking the mats in Atlanta, Baumgartner was honored by his fellow United States Olympic athletes when he was chosen to be captain of the USA Olympic Team and to carry the American flag for the Games' opening ceremonies.
Honored as the winner of the James E. Sullivan Award in 1995 as the outstanding amateur athlete in the United States, Baumgartner had not lost to an American wrestler from 1981 through his retirement from competition in 1997, a span of more than 17 years.
He is one of just eight athletes in U.S. history to medal in four different Olympiads.
Baumgartner began his personal quest for gold in 1982 with his first "grand-slam" title as he captured the NCAA Division I national championship at Indiana State University. Over his brilliant career, Baumgartner won 134 of 146 collegiate matches (134-12) including 73 falls. He was twice runner up at the national collegiate tournament, and then posted a 44-0 mark his senior year to capture the NCAA crown.
Baumgartner won his first Olympic gold medal in Los Angeles in 1984, America's first in 60 years of super heavyweight wrestling. He followed with a silver medal performance at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, four years later, and then became the first American wrestler to ever medal in three consecutive Olympics when he won the gold for the second time in Barcelona, Spain in 1992.
During that span, Baumgartner competing for the New York Athletic Club, won World Championships in 1995, 1993, and 1986, plus another three silver and three bronze World medals. Baumgartner captured a total of 13 World and Olympic medals, more than any other freestyle wrestler in history.
Before winning the Sullivan Award in 1995, Baumgartner was one of the 10 finalists for the prestigious honor four previous times in 1986, 1992, 1993 and 1994.
The 52-year-old from Edinboro was head wrestling coach at Edinboro University before becoming Director of Athletics in 1998. Baumgartner coached for 13 years at Edinboro, seven as a head coach. In 1997, he led the Fighting Scots to a 14-0 dual meet record, the best in school history, and a sixth-place team finish at the NCAA Division I national championships.
In 1998, Baumgartner was inducted into the Indiana State University Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2003, the Missouri Valley Conference named him an 'Institutional Great' and inducted him into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame. In 2008, Baumgartner was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002 and the International Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame (FILA) in 2003.
The CSHOF induction banquet on Feb. 18 at the Lakewood Rod and Gun Club will begin with a hospitality session at 5 p.m. with dinner at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets may be purchased at Matt's News on Third Street in Dunkirk, Fredonia Food Mart on Temple Street in Fredonia and Jamestown Cycle Shop on Harrison Street in Jamestown. Tickets can also be ordered by phoning Chip Johnson at 485-6991. The price per ticket is $50. CSHOF members receive a $5 discount.