By John Hartsock
The transition from amateur to professional wrestling can be very difficult and taxing, but Kurt Angle made it without a hitch.
Angle was on hand to discuss that, along with many other perspectives on his illustrious wrestling career, Saturday at Peoples Natural Gas Field after throwing out the first pitch for the Altoona Curve’s Eastern League game against Harrisburg.
After recovering enough from a broken neck to win a gold medal in freestyle wrestling for the United States at the 1996 Summer Olympics, Angle – a former PIAA high heavyweight wrestling champion at Mount Lebanon and a two-time NCAA national champion Division I heavyweight at Clarion University — followed up with an equally successful 21-year professional wrestling career.
Although the differences between amateur and professional wrestling are clear, Angle took to the pro circuit like a fish to water.
“The problem with the amateur wrestlers before me who had such a hard time transitioning to the professional ranks is that they didn’t want to give up what they were doing,” Angle, who has retired from the pro wrestling circuit since 2019. , he said.
“As an amateur wrestler, you don’t show any emotion or fear or excitement,” added Angle, now 53 and living in the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon Township. “You go by instinct. You go out there and do the job, try to get the pin and the match is over.”
Professional wrestling is much different.
“In pro wrestling, you have to show fear, excitement, anger,” Angle said. “In amateur wrestling, you’re taught not to get hit, so you don’t let people hit you. If you can’t let go of that instinct, you won’t be able to do professional wrestling. It can turn into a very big adjustment. But what I did at the pro level is I forgot everything I ever learned at the amateur level, and everything about pro wrestling came to me very quickly.”
After winning World Championship matches over pro wrestling legends Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin early in his professional career, Angle became a professional star in his own right, earning induction into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame in 2017.
In 2006, Angle left the WWE – which was formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). He went on to compete in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), which is now known as Impact Wrestling, becoming a six-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion and earning induction into the TNA Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013.
Angle, who wrestled as a professional, won 13 world championships.
“I thought I was just going to be a stand-in, but I didn’t realize I had a talent for entertainment inside of me,” Angle said. “Amateur wrestling is the real deal, and professional wrestling is obviously entertainment. I became very funny – I was able to do funny things, serious things, dramatic things. I became a student of the game.”
Angle – who is married with five children – has benefited from building a good foundation. After training under the late United States Olympic freestyle gold medalist Dave Schultz at Foxcatcher Farms in suburban Philadelphia, Angle won the gold medal at the July 1996 Summer Games at Atlanta’s Centennial Park in the 198-220 pound ( 90-100 kilograms) freestyle competition by decision of the officials over Iran’s Abbas Jadidi.
Angle dedicated his championship performance to Schultz, who was the victim of a tragedy that made national headlines when he was shot and killed by millionaire Foxcatcher Farms owner John du Pont on the grounds of Foxcatcher in January 1996.
“Dave was the greatest wrestler I’ve ever known,” Angle said of Schultz. “Coming out of college, I was a two-time NCAA champion at 210 pounds. He weighed 160 pounds at the time and whipped me.
“He taught me everything I know and it took me a while before I was able to beat him,” Angle added. “But I dedicated my Olympic gold medal to him, because if I didn’t have a coach like him, I wouldn’t have won that gold medal.
Schultz’s killing set off a tumultuous and traumatic year for Angle, who later in 1996 found himself in the middle of a domestic terrorist attack at the Atlanta Summer Olympics that killed one person and injured more than 100 others. Another person died of a heart attack after the accident.
“The thing that stood out for me at these Olympics was the bombardment,” Engle said. “This bombing really shook the whole city. We were all very nervous that this might happen again. We were closed for about half a day. It was a really scary time.”
Angle — who was also inducted into the International Sports Hall of Fame in 2016 for his accomplishments in amateur wrestling — believes that United States wrestling at the Olympic level right now is the best it’s ever been. As another Fourth of July Independence Day holiday dawns on America this morning, Anglemains is grateful to have had the opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. more than 25 years ago.
“It was a huge moment for me to represent the greatest country in the world in 1996 and win a gold medal,” Engle said. “It was a dream come true.”