Randy Lewis, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist
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By Cameron Barrett
July 5, 2006
Randy Lewis, 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist
“If you go out there and outwork everybody, you can be the best.”
- Randy Lewis, 1984 Olympic Wrestling ChampionBy Cameron Barrett
When you mention the name Lewis in the context of the 1984 Olympics, most people will think of Carl Lewis, the record-setting, four-time medal-winning track and field star of the Los Angeles Games. But there was another Lewis, Randy Lewis, a freestyle wrestling phenomenon from South Dakota who took the gold that year. And his story is about keeping your eyes on the prize, despite size and injury and adversity.
Winning a gold medal in the Olympics is extraordinary in itself, but knowing you're going to be an Olympic gold medalist by the fifth grade is something else. And that's exactly what Randy Lewis knew.
"I knew right then in fifth grade that I wanted to be an Olympic champion," said Lewis, in a mat-side interview in Northern Arizona. "I set my goals, I found out what had to be done to be an Olympic Champion, and I went out and did them."
Lewis was born in Milbank, South Dakota in 1959. By the time he was 11, the sports-minded Lewis knew that traditional sports like football and basketball weren't going to work out for him. "I was the smallest kid in the school." So he tried his hand at wrestling, and won the state competition in his weight class the first year out. He weighed 65 pounds.
Teaching a clinic at the Prescott Badger's Wrestling Camp on June 12, 2006.
From that moment on, Lewis and wrestling were inseparable. He wrestling through high school in Rapid City, South Dakota, going 89-0 and winning the state championship three years in a row. At the University of Iowa, the mecca for American wrestlers, Lewis wrestled at 126 pounds, and won two NCAA titles, made the National Wrestling Team and the World Wrestling Team. He was the first man to achieve all three goals before the age of 21. His record is so outstanding he was elected to the Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1998.
"I think I always had a strong belief in myself," said Lewis. "I’d never been hurt. I’d been successful. I was the second youngest guy in 50 years to make the Olympic team."
But Lewis streak was coming to an end. In 1980, the United States boycotted the Olympic Games, and Lewis' dream of becoming an Olympic Champion was put on hold for the next four years. In 1981, as a Senior at Iowa, Lewis severely dislocated his elbow in a match. For the first time, he was facing challenges aside from his size, and they were challenges he couldn't control.
1984 Olympic Gold Medalist
"I went two and a half years without winning a single tournament, when I had won basically my whole life," said Lewis. "So I had to learn how to overcome adversity. I had a whole bunch of injuries after that. I had to learn how to win when I wasn’t at my best. I had to find new ways to get confident. It took a lot of mental preparation to get back on top. And I recovered just in time to get back on top and mentally in shape to compete in 1984."
Those tough lessons worked. Lewis brought home the gold in the 1361/2 pound weight class.
Lewis is a freestyle wrestler. According to the official Olympic website, "in 1904, the Olympic Games added the second wrestling event and called it "freestyle". Now, wrestlers could use their legs for pushing, lifting and tripping, and they could hold opponents above or below the waist." It's certainly not the best known sport, but to Lewis it has advantages that many other sports can't offer kids.
"The three things that you need the most in wrestling, are strength, technique and conditioning. Fortunately those are three things that everybody can be great at if they do the work. You can be the weakest kid in the country and you can lift enough weights to become the strongest kid. You can have no technique and you drill enough you can have as good a technique as anyone in the country. And anybody can work hard enough to get themselves in really good shape and wear everybody else down. In basketball, you can’t teach somebody to be seven feet tall. But in wrestling, if you go out there and outwork everybody, you can be the best. That’s what I like about wrestling. It’s a lot like life that way."
Randy Lewis makes his home in Mesa, AZ and is the president and owner of the Arizona franchise of USA Score Tables - a company that creates scrolling billboards complete with advertising for high schools around the country. Lewis' company splits advertising proceeds with the schools. He says it's his small way of giving back to high school sports.
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Re: randy lewis
I took a care and prevention of athletic injuries class from Dan Foster, the old wrestling team trainer, many years ago. One day in class he showed a slide of the Press Citizen's photo of Lewis getting his elbow dislocated against Iowa State. (they managed to snap as pic right as it was bent about 45 degrees the WRONG way) Everyone in the class gasped, and Foster said, "I see you've noticed it... That's ME in the second row!
Foster also mentioned that Lewis was born without one pectoral muscle, if you go look at any of the old team photos, it is noticeable! Which makes his amazing achievements even more impressive.