Five years ago – June 7, 2006 – Terry McCann passed away at age 72 after a more than a year-long bout with cancer.
McCann was a wrestling champion in state, national and international competition, winning a gold medal in freestyle at the 1960 Rome Olympics… then, after hanging up his singlet, became a champion for the sport as a leader in various wrestling organizations.
Terrance John McCann was born March 23, 1934 in Chicago, the eldest of six children. He and his brother Francis were introduced to wrestling as youngsters. Terry McCann was a three-time Chicago city champion for Carl Schurz High School. He capped his prep career by winning the 112-pound title at the 1952 Illinois state championships as a senior, pinning his finals opponent in just 37 seconds.
For college, McCann headed straight west of the Windy City, to Iowa City and the University of Iowa. Wrestling for Hawkeye head coach Dave McCuskey for three seasons (back then, freshmen were not eligible to compete), McCann lost only three matches… all in his sophomore year. (Among McCann’s teammates at Iowa: Simon Roberts, first African-American to win an NCAA mat title (1957)… and Gary Kurdelmeier, who became head coach at Iowa in the 1970s, hiring Dan Gable as his assistant.)
McCann was a two-time Big Ten conference champ (1955-1956) and three-time NCAA All-American. At the 1954 NCAAs, the Hawkeye lost to another mat legend, Hugh Peery of the University of Pittsburgh, by one point in the semifinals, and eventually placed third at 115 pounds. The following year, McCann won his first national title by pinning Oklahoma State’s Dave Bowlin in the 115-pound finals at the 1955 NCAAs. As a senior, McCann earned his second 115-pound NCAA championship by shutting out Bill Hulings of the University of Pittsburgh, 6-0, in the title bout at the 1956 NCAAs.
After graduating from Iowa with a degree in Commerce in 1956, Terry McCann continued his mat career, shifting from folkstyle to freestyle. The pinnacle: winning the gold medal at 57kg/125 pounds at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, joining U.S. teammates Shelby Wilson and Doug Blubaugh as gold medalists.
McCann continued to give much to the sport that had given him much. He served as a volunteer coach in Chicago for the Mayor Daley Youth Foundation, where the team won six AAU national freestyle titles and five Greco-Roman titles. McCann was instrumental in the establishment of what is now USA Wrestling. A natural, versatile athlete, McCann became an avid surfer and an executive in various organizations in that sport. McCann also put his leadership skills to work as executive director of Toastmasters International for a quarter-century.
In April 2005, Terry McCann was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a lung disease caused by asbestos, which the wrestler was exposed to in a refinery job in Oklahoma while training for the Olympics. He passed away on June 7, 2006 at age 72.
The fifth anniversary of McCann’s passing has added poignancy, with the death last month of fellow Olympic gold medalwinner Doug Blubaugh in a motorcycle accident in Oklahoma.
Want to know more? For a detailed bio on Terry and Fran McCann, check out this feature at InterMat Rewind; for more information on the 1960 Olympics, here’s another InterMat Rewind story. To see Terry McCann in action as an Iowa Hawkeye, watch this film from the 1956 NCAA finals… as well as footage from the 1960 Olympics.
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