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|UPDATED: 1984 Olympic gold medalist Jeff Blatnick dies following complications from heart surgery|
By USA Wrestling
Jeff Blatnick, who became a national hero after winning an Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, has died at age 55.
Television station WNYT in Albany, N.Y., confirmed today that Blatnick has died following complications from heart surgery in his native New York.
Blatnick earned a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He also was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team. He became an international hero after he defeated Hodgkins Disease, a form of cancer, prior to winning his Olympic title.
He was a star at Springfield College, and a high school state champion in New York at Niskayuna High School from the Albany area.
He competed for the legendary Doug Parker at Springfield College, where he was a two-time Div. II national champion and three-time All-American. At the time, Div. II athletes could advance to the Div. I nationals, and he was also a two-time Div. I All-American, placing third in the 1979 NCAA Championships and sixth in the 1978 NCAA Championships.
He has served as USA Wrestling's state chairman in New York, and has been involved as a wrestling commentator for NBC and ESPN. He also served as a motivational speaker and worked as an ambassador with the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The U.S. Olympic family suffered a great loss today. The following statement is attributable to USOC CEO Scott Blackmun on the untimely death of Jeff Blatnick:
“The U.S. Olympic family has a heavy heart today following the passing of Jeff Blatnick. An Olympic gold medalist and the flag bearer for Team USA at the 1984 Closing Ceremony in LA, Jeff was a legend in the sport of wrestling and a true champion who remained active in Olympic sport for the last 30+ years. Whether it was youth coaching or participating in the USOC ambassador program prior to the London Games, Jeff was always willing to share his story and lend his considerable talents to growing the sport of wrestling and inspiring young men and women to always do their best. Our sincere condolences go out to Jeff’s family and friends. He will be missed.”
Those who worked with Jeff and shared his life journey share a sense of loss.
"It is a great tragedy for wrestling in general, and for New York wrestling also. He was our New York state chairman, and has been doing a phenomenal job. I am saddened for his wife and two children. I am feeling the greatest saddness," said Joe DeMeo, the Greco-Roman who coached Blatnick with the ATWA club in Albany and is a close friend.
"His greatest gift was the sincere time and effort he gave to everybody in the state," said Rick Gumble, who has served with Jeff for many years with New York USA Wrestling. "It wasn't just the clinics he did, his coaching and other service. It was the simple things. There was no task he would not get his hands involved in. A lot of us who worked with him in New York State respected him."
USA Wrestling National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games and was a teammate of Jeff's at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Fraser and Blatnick were the first two U.S. Greco-Roman wrestlers to ever win an Olympic gold medal.
"I am devastated that Jeff Blatnick, who was a great Greco-Roman champion, has passed away. He was on two Olympic teams, was a gold medalist with me in Los Angeles and a great friend. I am stunned by it. I talked to him just a few weeks ago, about his work with our state association in New York and how we can promote Greco-Roman wrestling. I am heartbroken. He has done so much for the sport as an athlete, an announcer, a leader and a spokesman. My prayers go out to his family," said Fraser.
He leaves his wife Lori and two children who are in high school, Ian and Niki.
Information on arrangements for Jeff Blatnick are forthcoming and will be shared when available.
Blatnick was inducted as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999. Below is his Hall of Fame biography.
Distinguished Member Jeff Blatnick
Inducted in 1999
Jeff Blatnick said,"If you can win in adversity, you can win anywhere!" This quote exemplifies his achievements in all aspects of life and illustrates his determination in the world of wrestling.
Blatnick began his wrestling career in 1973 at Niskayuna High School in Schenectady, New York. In his three years of varsity wrestling he compiled a record of 62-19-0, and was the NYS Heavyweight champion in 1975.
He continued his list of accomplishments at Springfield College, MA. There he became a two time Division II National champion, and a three time Division II All-American. He also was third in the 1979 NCAA Division I meet as a senior.
It was in Greco-Roman wrestling that Blatnick made his greatest impact. He qualified for the 1980 Olympic Greco-Roman team, but was unable to compete due to the government boycott of the Moscow Games. Four years later, though, he returned to become one of only two U.S. Wrestlers to win the Olympics in Greco-Roman.
He was a three-time national champion in Greco-Roman and won eight Greco-Roman All-American awards. He won two World Cup medals and also won two Freestyle All-American honors.
Blatnick's greatest victory, however, occurred before he ever made it to the 1984 Olympics. On the path to his Olympic Gold Medal, he conquered his greatest opponent, Hodgkin's Disease, a form of cancer.
He has continued to serve the sport of wrestling by serving on USA Wrestling Board of Directors for many years, and through his work as a wrestling broadcaster.
As one of the most well known and respected wrestlers, as well as a hero to many, Jeff Blatnick is honored as a Distinguished Member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.