Skip to main content
Original Issue

Scaling a crazy mountain

We've come a long way since the first Soviet-U.S. sport brouhahas with their intrigue, nyets, flag waving, talk of defections, swarms of security men and—at least sometimes—real contests. The Russian wrestlers' latest tour, in fact, had been one lovely roller coaster ride, a vodka tonic of kazatzkayu, gift and compliment swappings, thank-yous and spacibos before they met the Americans Friday in New York's Madison Square Garden for their last tangle. Even that turned out fun enough, although the Russians were bent on proving they still were the world's best and the Americans looked upon this final match as their first real chance ever of beating the Russian wrestlers.

Going into New York, the Soviet athletes had blitzed Japan, Canada and the U.S. to take the World Cup in Toledo and the Americans again in Columbus, Ohio, Madison, Wis. and Brockport, N.Y., winning 33 bouts, losing only five and drawing two. But U.S. Coach Bill Farrell was strangely unimpressed. "We'll have a good chance to win in New York," he said. To face the Soviets, who had brought along five 1972 Olympic medal winners, three of them gold medalists, Farrell now had four medalists of his own—Dan Gable and Ben Peterson (gold), John Peterson (silver) and Chris Taylor (bronze). For Taylor it would be his second match on the tour and for Gable his first. It would also be the last amateur bouts for both; Gable will soon sign a product-endorsement contract and Taylor will become a pro wrestler.

"It is sad," said Russian co-coach Yuri Shakhmuradov with the aid of Interpreter Viktor Kukharsky. "It's a shame that your wrestlers finally shine for a while and then disappear."

Shakhmuradov and the rest of the Russians were able to contain their sadness admirably as they plunged head deep into the American experience. There were movies, Cokes, Levi's, Niagara Falls, the usual things; but what really transported the visitors were the limousines that hauled them around. They went crazy in the cars, playing with the pushbuttons and sending windows whooshing up and down, tilting seats backward and calling for "Moosic, moosic"—good, loud rock—on the radio.

Wherever they went, the Russians were plied with gifts—cameras, sunglasses, Frisbees, tape recorders—and the most lavish plier of all was Nancy Hellickson, whose husband Russ fought the Russians twice. Maybe she had a point. Russ' left arm was dislocated in Toledo by Ivan Yarygin, a 220-pound gold medalist who had pinned all seven of his Olympic opponents. When the two met next at the University of Wisconsin, where Hellickson is the assistant coach, Yarygin wrestled just hard enough to protect himself. Hellickson did faint from the pain after two periods but there to catch him was Yarygin.

As the Americans gathered in New York, they had an assortment of minor problems. Jimmy Carr, the 114.5-pounder, was forced to buy a sport jacket so he could join his teammates inside the New York AC. A high-schooler from Erie, Pa. and one of 16 children, Carr does not have that kind of walking-around money. He does have guts, though. Last year his right leg was in an ankle-to-hip cast. "That didn't stop him," said Tom Canavan, coach at the Erie YMCA who instructs Carr in international-style wrestling when the high school season ends. "He went to the Great Lakes Open tournament, took off the cast and won both divisions—high school and open—for the third year in a row. Then he put the cast back on. He wore it for two more weeks, took it off and won the Olympic Trials." In Munich the 17-year-old placed 12th.

Gable, whose knees were giving him trouble, had all but retired before being talked into competing in New York. "Deep down, I guess I really wanted one more match," he said. "I'm in as good physical shape as I was in Munich because I've worked out every day. I always will. It's part of my life. After I won the gold medal my parents wanted to take me on a vacation, but I just stayed in my room and read comic books. It relaxed my mind."

Taylor, called Joidanyama by the wrestlers ("It's Japanese and means 'crazy mountain,' " claims Gable), came to New York looking as if he had swallowed Mt. Fuji. He weighed 440 pounds, give or take 15 or 20 pizzas, mostly because he is too nice to turn down an invitation. He appeared at dozens of festivities ranging from banquets to Little League openings. Taylor admitted he had not trained hard but said that after New York he was limiting himself to only one important date: Sept. 8, when he will marry Lynne Hart.

At the Garden, where a strike by Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Utilitymen) had been averted, a different union—the Soviet's—struck first, as Rafik Gadzhiyev beat Dale Kestel handily. But then Carr earned a stunning 5-5 draw with Munich gold medalist Roman Dmitriyev. He achieved it in the final 20 seconds when, in one blurring sequence, he spun the Russian toward the mat, landed on his own head, bridged expertly and rolled Dmitriyev across his back for a two-point near fall. He was saluted by the crowd of 3,094, a fine turnout considering this was New York, never much of a place for amateur wrestling. (At Brockport there was a turnaway crowd of almost 3,000. There were 3,500 at Ohio State even though the match was on the Memorial Day weekend. And at Wisconsin there were 8,619 fans despite school being in recess.)

Don Behm of East Lansing, Mich. won at 125.5 pounds. With two points for a win and one for a draw, that made the team score 3-3 after three bouts. Next, Marine Lieut. Lloyd Keaser battled tattooed Viktor Markelov, who has a crescent moon on his right calf and stars on his kneecaps. Keaser did violence to Markelov's solar system, wrapping up his moon and stars in a spectacular double-leg takedown near fall. That was worth three points and a 6-4 win, and it made the team score U.S. 5, U.S.S.R. 3.

But, horrors! Gable, who did not have a single point scored against him in the Olympics, suddenly lost two to a 20-year-old upstart named Pavel Pinigin. ("He slapped the back of my head and at the same time grabbed the back of my knee, and I flew," Gable later explained.) A surprised Gable got up and proceeded to earn all 12 of the other points in the match. His career over, Gable got a lengthy standing ovation. "I can't put into words what that applause felt like," he said afterward. "I can't say fantastic or jubilation. No number of words can express my feelings."

Russia took the next bout, but John Peterson ground out a 2-0 win at 180.5 pounds on a takedown with 30 seconds to go and the U.S. was ahead 9-5. All that was needed to end Soviet supremacy was one win in the final three matches.

It never came. First Yarygin, then Levan Tediashvili, who had exhibited a fast-stepping kazutzkaya back in Wisconsin, won their bouts to tie the affair at 9-9. That left it up to Taylor and Soslan Andiyev, 21, a 6'7" 240-pounder who had a 2-2 draw with Chris in Wisconsin.

Taylor's lack of conditioning was soon evident. He got a first-period takedown, but on two later tries Andiyev, reacting swiftly, spun free and had Chris on his back briefly. Andiyev prevailed 4-1, and his teammates joyously tossed him into the air several times as though he were some short, skinny kid, which is about what he looked like coping with Taylor's massive bulk.

"If one wishes, one can do anything," said Andiyev. Like moving a crazy mountain.