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|Exciting night for wrestling as Dan Gable Museum opens in Waterloo, Iowa|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
WATERLOO, Iowa - It was a Night at the Museum that Mike Chapman will never forget.
Chapman's dream of bringing a wrestling museum to his hometown of Waterloo became a reality on Friday night when the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum was unveiled to the public.
Chapman is executive director of the newly renamed and relocated museum. The museum was previously located just off I-80 in Newton, Iowa, for the past nine years and was called the International Wrestling Institute and Museum.
Now the museum is named for the legendary Gable, a Waterloo native who won state, NCAA and Olympic championships before coaching the Iowa Hawkeyes to 15 NCAA titles. Gable returned to coaching this year as an assistant to first-year head coach Tom Brands at Iowa.
An elated Chapman estimated more than 500 people passed through the museum on Friday.
The museum is much more than just a shrine to Gable. There are two walls dedicated to Gable, one for his wrestling career and another for his coaching career. There also is a wall dedicated to two-time Olympic Champion and Oklahoma State coach John Smith. Among the other displays is one for Cael Sanderson, the first-year Iowa State coach who was 159-0 in college and won four NCAA titles before capturing an Olympic Gold Medal in 2004.
"This museum will play a very key role for the sport in the future," Gable said. "It's amazing to see everything that's in this museum - it's just great. Mike and Bev Chapman and a lot of people really stepped up and deserve a lot of thanks for this. It's really neat to see something like this in my hometown. I'm really proud to be associated with it."
The museum had another big-name and surprise visitor on Friday night in major-league pitcher Barry Zito, who recently agreed to a $126 million, seven-year contract with the San Francisco Giants. The contract is the largest ever for a pitcher. Zito declined an interview request from TheMat.com on Friday night.
Zito reportedly is in town to talk with Gable and Smith. He spoke briefly with Gable on Friday night.
"I had heard he was coming and he apparently wants to pick my brain and Coach Smith's brain to help him get better as an athlete," Gable said. "He wants to perform at a high level and I think it's really interesting he wants to talk to wrestlers because he knows how tough they have to be mentally to succeed. We just talked briefly and we're going to sit down and talk some more. He's trying to get an edge."
Gable also had something else on his mind Friday night. Helping coach the Hawkeyes this weekend at the National Duals at the UNI-Dome in neighboring Cedar Falls, Iowa.
"I'm trying to keep my game face on because we're going into competition and it's a really important competition for the Iowa Hawkeyes right now," Gable said. "I can't let this disrupt how my athletes perform, so I need to make sure I have my game face on. I have 100 percent confidence in Tom Brands and the whole coaching staff. I still have to do some promotion and this is tremendous promotion for the sport."
Among the other luminaries on hand was wrestling legend Verne Gagne, a two-time NCAA champion at Minnesota in 1948 and 1949 who went on to a long career in professional wrestling.
"Verne couldn't wait to come down here - he said he wouldn't miss it for the world," Chapman said. "It's great to see him here."
Gable's high school coach, legendary former Waterloo West coach Bob Siddens, was on hand as well.
The opening of the museum coincided with the National Duals, which are being held on Saturday and Sunday in Cedar Falls. The museum will be open both days. It will stay open until 8 p.m. Saturday to allow fans at the National Duals to stop by and visit once the day's wrestling is completed.
Chapman, one of the world's top wrestling historians, has written numerous books on wrestling and is a past National Wrestler Writer of the Year.
"We think the opening of this building makes Waterloo the capital of wrestling in the United States again," Chapman said. "This is a very special place. It's been a very intense two years trying to make this happen and it's really worth it when you see such a great turnout like we have tonight. To see the wrestling community so energized, we think what we have is a perfect complement to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater and what USA Wrestling is doing.
"Our goal is to really market the sport of wrestling so that puts it in the foremost in people's minds and I think this is a big step in the right direction. It's a fabulous facility and I think people are going to flock to this place. We're trying to keep our history and tradition alive."
A large image of Olympic Champion Steve Fraser catches the eyes of viewers as they pass through the museum as do huge posters of World and Olympic Champion Alexander Karelin along with World Champions Tom and Terry Brands.
There also is a small makeshift wrestling room with a mat on the floor where young fans were seen practicing stances and moves.
The museum also started its own hour-long radio show on Jan. 3, on 1650 The Fan in Cedar Falls. The museum also has a quarterly publication called MATSIDE, which is available for free by calling Kyle Klingman of the Dan Gable Museum at 319-233-0745. Log on to the museum's Web site at www.wrestlingmusuem.org.