Bruce Baumgartner never sought attention. But when you are one of the most dominant athletes in your sport over nearly two decades, avoiding the spotlight can be difficult.
Yes, avoiding the spotlight actually was harder than taking down many of his opponents on the wrestling mat.
Growing up in New Jersey, Baumgartner got a late start in athletics — he did not wrestle competitively until high school. While he quickly took to the sport and dedicated himself, his best result as a high schooler was a third-place finish in the New Jersey state championships.
Baumgartner went to Indiana State, which had a solid program, and transformed himself into one of the nation’s premier wrestlers. He reached the NCAA heavyweight final as a sophomore and junior, and finally claimed an NCAA title as a senior in 1982, finishing 44-0.
Baumgartner made his Olympic debut in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, winning gold in the super-heavyweight freestyle competition. He took silver at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, then gold again at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.
By the time the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games rolled around, Baumgartner was selected the U.S. flag bearer and U.S. Olympic Team captain – the spotlight had found him again. He won a bronze medal there – becoming only the fourth American ever to win medals in four Olympic Games.
“I really enjoyed my career as a wrestler,” Baumgartner said upon his selection to the USOC Hall of Fame. “Winning the medals and all the different records were all great, but the most important part for me was representing the United States and having an opportunity to compete at your best. I loved going out on the mat and getting after it. Looking back now, there were some great times and great memories.”