Early in the Sport
Dave Schultz spent the majority of his childhood in Palo Alto, California where he transformed from a pudgy, goofy kid hampered by dyslexia, into a 17 year-old prodigy, thrilling Russian crowds at the notoriously competitive Tbilisi tournament. Dave was not a great athlete. But, he pursued the technical aspects of wrestling with the intellectual vigor of a Stanford professor (where he would later spend three years as an assistant coach).
Armed with humility, a huge smile, and a propensity for Eastern European languages, Dave gravitated towards the best wrestling in the world, wherever that may have been. He engaged and disarmed world class athletes and coaches with his light-hearted banter, then soaked up whatever knowledge they were willing to share. In 1978 Dave won a California High School State Championship, in 1982 He won an NCAA title for the University of Oklahoma and in 1983 he dismantled his Soviet opponent to become a World Champion, thus reaching the pinnacle of the sport.
An American Legend
At the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, California, Schultz quickly became a media favorite. He played with reporters and captured the fascination of Americans with humor, punctuated by his unique insights into wrestling and life; then made them squirm as he twisted his opponents into alarming positions that didn’t quite seem possible. The building shook with intensity as Dave methodically worked his way through the Gold Medal match virtually uncontested. He capped the moment by blowing kisses from center-mat, to his young wife Nancy, who was beaming with pride. As the referee raised Dave’s hand in victory; an American legend was born.
An Accomplished Career
Over the next 12 years Dave became one of the most decorated American wrestlers of all time, winning 10 National Open titles and 7 World Championship medals. But, what set this man apart from other great champions and elevated him into the Pantheon of wrestling immortality, were the things he was doing off the mat. Whether in a room full of foreign dignitaries or a Moscow sauna with five Russian janitors, Dave was the person that everyone was drawn to. And he achieved this dynamic, not by touting his own impressive accomplishments, but with an effortless diplomacy born out of a genuine curiosity about other people and their experiences throughout the world.
Athlete, Coach, & Leader
He possessed an innate ability to listen, to connect, and to make people feel understood. Throughout his short life, Dave applied his unique interpersonal skills to further his impassioned agenda — making the United States Wrestling Team the best team in the world. Part elementary school teacher part Russian gangster, Dave used his relationships within the international wrestling community to create a free exchange of knowledge between Eastern Europe (the Mecca of wrestling technique) and U.S. Athletes; something that had never been successfully achieved before, or since. From 1988 to 1996, with Dave Schultz acting as athlete, coach, and all-around spiritual leader, the U.S. Wrestling Team steadily rose through the world ranks until ultimately capturing a first World Title in 1993, and then another in 1995. Dave was a true champion in every sense of the word.
A Tragic End
Unfortunately, this meteoric rise to world dominance would be cut short by three shots of a gun, wielded by an eccentric madman caught in a downward spiral of drug addiction and paranoid schizophrenia. On January 26, 1996 Gold Medalist wrestler David Leslie Schultz was murdered by John E. du Pont, an eccentric heir to the du Pont chemical fortune. America stayed pinned to their televisions as du Pont holed up in his sprawling white-pillared mansion and a three day police standoff played out in prime time. Less than a mile away a wife and two small children wept, struggling to comprehend new lives without a father.
An entire community of wrestlers, throughout the world, were brought to their knees mourning the loss of a champion, a friend, and quite possibly the most influential individual in the history of their sport.