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Trump to award Iowa wrestling icon Dan Gable Medal of Freedom

Jennifer Jacobs

President Donald Trump plans to award Olympic wrestling champion Dan Gable the Medal of Freedom, honoring his storied career as an athlete, coach and motivational speaker, people familiar with the matter said.

Gable, 71, is a beloved figure in his native Iowa, where polls show the president to be neck-and-neck with Democratic nominee Joe Biden just weeks before Election Day. Trump is scheduled to speak at a campaign rally in Des Moines on Wednesday evening.

Dan Gable

After racking up two NCAA national championships at Iowa State University, Gable went on to win the 1971 Pan American Games, two world championships and the gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Following the string of victories, Gable went on to join the coaching staff at the University of Iowa, where he posted a record 355 wins – including 15 national team titles – from 1976 to 1997. He served as the head Olympic coach for U.S. wrestlers at the 1980, 1984 and 2000 competitions, leading his athletes to seven gold medals.

Gable – who was raised in Waterloo and now lives in Iowa City – has authored multiple books drawing on his wrestling expertise as well as his personal life story, which was shaped by the murder of his sister as a teenager.

His iconic status in Iowa has drawn the attention of multiple political candidates over the years as they sought to gain traction in the first-in-the-nation caucuses. But Gable has largely resisted politics and withheld his sought-after endorsement – a level of neutrality that has contributed to his popularity in Iowa.

In 2015, Gable appeared on stage at a Trump rally. He wore an Iowa wrestling hat and held the Trump campaign’s signature red “Make America Great Again” hat in his hand.

“I’m very happy to be kind of neutral,” Gable said as he stood on stage next to the future president. He added that he was at the event for “an education purpose” but that he liked Trump’s slogan.

The plan for the award comes after a group of lawmakers calling themselves the Congressional Wrestling Caucus – including Ohio Republican Jim Jordan and Iowa Democrat Dave Loebsack – sent a letter to the president in August requesting that Gable receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, saying he “defined greatness as an athlete and a coach.”