According to University of Iowa wrestler Lincoln McIlravy, success depends on one central principle. "Everybody," he says, "needs to do one thing that nobody else does."
What the 20-year-old McIlravy does is wrestle better than anybody else in the college ranks. Over the past six years—a span that includes his last three years at Philip (S.Dak.) High School and his three years so far at Iowa—McIlravy's record is 172-2. A five-time state high school champion, he has won back-to-back titles in two trips to the NCAA championships and is running on full throttle toward a third. As of last Friday he had won 48 consecutive matches.
At this rate McIlravy, a 152-pound junior, is on track to become the best wrestler in the history of the sport. This hopeful assessment comes from none other than Dan Gable, McIlravy's coach at Iowa and the man widely considered the sport's best ever. "Keep in mind," Gable cautions, "that I said on track. Lincoln has to do it."
Zeke Jones, an assistant coach at Arizona State, says, "McIlravy is the most intense college wrestler in the last 20 years. I can see Gable and McIlravy looking in the mirror and seeing each other."
McIlravy is successful for three reasons:
•His philosophy. "I have the desire to win and a hatred of losing," he says.
•His style. "If you attack, not much bad can happen," he says.
•His South Dakota upbringing. "Living out here you develop the proper attitudes toward work and productivity," says his father, Ken.
This is not to say that McIlravy isn't occasionally impetuous. Witness his phone call in October 1993 to his parents announcing that he and his high school sweetheart, Lisa Kjerstad, had just gotten married.
Lincoln started wrestling because his two brothers were involved in the sport. His father bought instructional videotapes advertised in wrestling magazines, and little Lincoln wore out the tapes on cold winter nights. He has continued to hone his talents under the tutelage of Gable, a man who, according to McIlravy, "doesn't understand the concept of quitting."
McIlravy has trouble with the concept himself. In the final match of the 1993 NCAAs, he trailed Fresno State's Gerry Abas by five points with 45 seconds remaining. In a blazing display of determination and prowess, he scored three two-point takedowns—the last with four seconds left—to win 16-15. "I didn't think I would lose," McIlravy says. "But I have to admit, I didn't know how I was going to win."
Just how rare a talent is McIlravy? "People say he's one in a million," says Dan Mahoney, his high school coach. "Frankly, I don't think somebody like him comes along that often."
The Hawkeye wrestler (top) aims to pin down a third NCAA title.