USAWInternationalCollegeHigh School & Youth

Heads Up: A USA Wrestling Coaches Council Podcast: Season 3 Episode 4 featuring Lee Kemp

by USA Wrestling


Leroy (Lee) P. Kemp, Jr. (born Darnell Freeman; December 24, 1956) is a former American freestyle and folkstyle wrestler. Kemp would achieve success at the high school, collegiate, and international levels.

Kemp started wrestling in only the 9th grade at Chardon High School, in Chardon, Ohio and by the end of his high school career had compiled two undefeated seasons, while winning two Ohio state titles. His first state title included wins over the defending state champion and the previous years' state runner-up. Shortly after graduating from high school, Kemp was one of only four American Junior wrestlers that recorded a dual meet win against a tough Junior Soviet team on their Ohio stop of an eight city United States tour, which resulted in 80 total matches being contested. Lee also won the prestigious Junior National Freestyle Tournament in July of that same year defeating a future 3-time NCAA Champion in the finals.

While competing for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Kemp was a four-time NCAA Division I National finalist, winning the championship three times and placing 2nd, on a split referee's decision, as a true freshman at 18 years old. Lee recorded losses to only three wrestlers in his collegiate career. His last college loss was in the NCAA finals as a freshman, posting 110 wins and no losses against collegiate competition during his last three years, which included the historic win over the legendary Dan Gable in November of Lee's sophomore year.[1]

Kemp was America's first three-time World Champion, winning his first title in 1978 at age 21, establishing him as the youngest American world champion ever, a distinction he held for 30 years. Lee was a four-time World Cup Champion, 7-time United States Freestyle National Champion and was a heavy favorite for gold earning a berth on the 1980 United States Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Team, but was unable to compete because of the U.S. boycott of the Olympics.

Kemp was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in 1990. While at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where he was one of the freestyle coaches for the U.S., he became just the fifth American to be inducted into the United World Wrestling (formerly known as FILA) Hall of Fame.

Kemp is the subject of a film documentary, entitled Wrestled Away: The Lee Kemp Story, on his life scheduled for theatrical release Summer 2019, and is the co-founder and President of LKNutrition (formerly FORZA Technologies), a nutritional supplement company. LKNutrition (formerly FORZA) was the official corporate sponsor of USA Wrestling and its national teams.