Doug Blubaugh, 1960 Olympic gold medalist wrestler, 1957 NCAA mat champ, and long-time wrestling coach, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Tonkawa, Okla., Monday night. He was 76 years old.
According to KOCO in Oklahoma City, Blubaugh was killed when the motorcycle he was riding was struck by a pickup truck driven by Curtis Winney, 73, of Forks, Wash., according to Tonkawa Police Chief Scott Dark. Blubaugh was traveling westbound on East North Avenue and was hit by the northbound pickup, police said.
“Doug is a treasure to the wrestling history and heritage in the United States,” said National Wrestling Hall of Fame Director Lee Roy Smith. “We suffered a great loss.”
Douglas Morlan Blubaugh was born December 31, 1934 in north-central Oklahoma. In a 2010 interview for InterMat, when asked what made him a formidable wrestler, Blubaugh responded, “Thank God I grew up on a wheat farm in Oklahoma that didn’t have electricity or running water ’til during World War II. Doing farm chores built a work ethic. It was hard work. I never lifted weights — couldn’t afford them — but hefted bales of hay. Strength from working on a farm is different; you get ‘endurance strength’ from farm work.”
That strength and work ethic served Blubaugh well in wrestling at all levels. Competing on the Ponca City High wrestling team, Blubaugh won the 141-pound title at the 1953 Oklahoma state championships. He then wrestled at Oklahoma State, where he was was a three-time NCAA All-American. At the 1955 NCAAs, Blubaugh placed third in the 147-pound weight class. The following year, the Ponca City native just missed out on the 157-pound title at the 1956 NCAAs by losing 4-3 in the finals to Larry TenPas of the University of Illinois. However, his senior year, Blubaugh grabbed the title at that weight at the 1957 NCAAs in Pittsburgh with a decisive 9-3 finals win over Mike Rodriguez of the University of Michigan.
After graduating from Oklahoma State in 1957, Blubaugh won the National AAU freestyle title (and Outstanding Wrestler honors), then, later that year, joined the Army. After basic training at Fort Knox and Airborne school at Fort Benning, Blubaugh was assigned to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he could concentrate on his wrestling training. Blubaugh earned gold at the Pan-American Games in Chicago in 1959.
To earn a place on the U.S. Olympic freestyle team, Blubaugh had a series of matches with fellow Oklahoman Phil Kinyon. In the last of the series, Blubaugh scored a takedown to defeat Kinyon, to wrestle at 161 pounds in Rome.
At the 1960 Olympics, Blubaugh pinned his first three opponents. However, the match that solidified Blubaugh’s reputation was his fourth in Rome, taking on the world champion from Iran, Emam-Ali Habibi. The Iranian was highly decorated, having won a freestyle gold medal at 67 kg at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Habibi has been described as being undefeated in freestyle competition, and was considered a prohibitive favorite to win a second Olympic gold medal.
On September 6, Blubaugh stepped onto the mat against the unbeaten — and “unbeatable” — Habibi. Here’s how Blubaugh described it:
At the start of my match with Habibi, he comes right after me and knocks me on my butt. I get out of it, get up and boom, he does it again. Once more, I get out of it but am now behind by five points. I tell myself he can’t do that to me a third time, so when he comes after me again, I flip him onto his back, hold him tightly while he is vainly bridging, and pin him.
Blubaugh secured the pin at 2:37, and a place in the history books. However, it was not the gold-medal match. The Oklahoman had to win two more bouts that day to earn his gold medal, and join fellow U.S. teammates Terry McCann and Shelby Wilson (also from Ponca City) as world champions.
After concluding his wrestling career with more than 400 wins and just 17 losses, Doug Blubaugh became a college coach, first as an assistant at Michigan State for seven years, then as head coach at Indiana University for 12 seasons. Until his death, he remained active as an instructor at wrestling camps.
Blubaugh was welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. as a Distinguished Member in 1979.
Just last fall, Blubaugh and Wilson were honored with bronze statues at Ponca City High School.
Blubaugh is survived by two sets of identical twin boys (Dale and Dean, Dana and Dann) and one daughter (Dawn).
Want to know more? For reports on the death of Doug Blubaugh, check out these reports from TheMat.com, KOCO, and InterMat. For more details on the 1960 Rome Olympics, read the 2010 feature at InterMat. Listen to audio interviews with 1972 Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable and recently retired University of Oklahoma coach Jack Spates conducted by Scott Casber for Takedown Wrestling. For funeral arrangements, click here.
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