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In Play with Craig Mattick: Randy Lewis
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Randy Lewis Podcast
South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame

He's one of the most physically gifted wrestlers in South Dakota history. Randy Lewis, a native of Rapid City, was a three-time state champion at Stevens high school, a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Iowa, and an Olympic gold medalist at the 1984 Olympic Games for Team USA. He truly is 'the toughest kid on the block.'

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You went 89-0 during your last three years of high school. 83 pins.

My last three years, I was 89-0 with 83 pins and one default. And I won 23-2 and 12-0. I only had two regular decisions in high school in my last three years.

When you were at the University of Iowa, you won two NCAA titles, correct?

Yeah, I went 91 matches in a row at Iowa without a loss. I had a tie in there against Darryl Burley, who I beat four times in college. He was a four time finalist and two time champ. But yeah, I had 91 without a loss. But some of the things I'm more proud of though, is that I wrestled 27 different guys that placed in the top three in the world during the Olympics. So I wrestled 27 different guys that got first, second or third in the world of the Olympics, and I'd beat 24 of them. And I've wrestled 24 NCAA champs and beat 21 of them.

And I've wrestled and beat somebody from every single United States world and Olympic team from 1968 to 1996, except for the year 1974. And so those, and also, one of the proudest things I have is that I have the highest scoring NCAA finals match in 1979. I won 20-14 against John Acevedo. And that's the highest scoring and finals match of all time, it still is. And my gold medal match in 1984 was the highest scoring, it still is. And it was the highest scoring gold medal match in history.

That first airplane trip you took to compete as a wrestler, what was that? Do you remember? And what you were thinking on that plane, going somewhere to compete in wrestling?

Oh, I think the first time I flew somewhere to wrestle was, I think I was probably in the seventh or eighth grade, and I remember, I think it was up in Montana at a regional tournament there. We rented a private plane, and a friend of mine, Mark Guy that wrestled with me that was a junior high state champion and got second at a national tournament in 1971 or '72, his dad flew the plane, had his pilot's license. And my first time on it, it was pretty scary. And that was on the way back. We went up there and wrestled all right. Then on the way back, we got fogged in, and he wasn't a very good pilot with a radar or something, and wasn't qualified to fly in the fog. And we were lucky to survive that.

You got pretty comfortable though, flying all around the world later on, correct?

Oh yeah. Yeah, I've been everywhere, just about. I've been to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Not many people have been there. Been to Russia five times, been to Tokyo, been to Australia, I've been to Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada. Yeah, I've been everywhere. I've been to quite a few places.

Randy, your dad told you to be the toughest kid on the block when you were pretty young. What kind of an influence did your dad have for you in wrestling?

Well, he was a great influence, and it was like, when I was like in fifth grade, I won state my first year in wrestling. And we decided that I was going to be an Olympic champion. And we set our goals each year, how bad I was going to beat everybody, and what improvements I was going to make. And I started going to camps in sixth grade where Terry McCann, who was an Olympic champ and a two time national champ from Iowa was there teaching it. And Myron Roderick was a three time NCAA champ and was the head coach at Oklahoma State at the time, was there putting the camp on. And so I made sure I did all the things, and my dad was the guy that organized it, and he paid for other kids to go to camps and tournaments, and took them, loaded up the station wagon with seven or eight kids, and took them to tournaments and camps.

And at that age, I was thinking all my friends were going to grow up and be the ones that played basketball, were going to be in the NBA, in the NFL and major league baseball. I didn't realize that not really everybody's makes it there. I thought all my friends were going to be... And I remember Dave Guy was, he was a wrestler. But then he quit wrestling in junior high. But he was the state champion and won nationals in his first year in 1971. And he had a head lock, but then he got into the other sports more, and was asking me, "Well, what are you going to do to make money after you win the Olympics, because you don't get paid in wrestling?"

But he was thought he was going to be a pro baseball player. And I thought everybody was, so I was very naive in thinking that. But wrestling was a sport that, if you do all the right things and work your butt off, you can make it. Baseball and basketball, I mean, you can't teach a guy to be tall, or you can't teach a guy to jump and be able to dunk if you tried. I mean, you can't teach height and you can't teach... You can sprint all you want, but you're only going to get so fast unless you're naturally fast. But wrestling is a sport where, if you do all the right things, you can be great. And I did all the right things and my dad helped me a lot the whole way, all the way through the Olympics. And we even had to go through some legal difficulties with when they tried to screw me off the Olympic team in '84. And so my dad, we had lawsuits. And so my dad has helped me so much in everything.

Wrestling parents can be some of the craziest and most fun people to watch during a match in wrestling. What was your dad like when you were wrestling? Was he quiet, just watching, or was he pretty active?

Okay. It's like when I wrestled in a match, I could always hear, "Come on Randy." And he'd yell at me what to do and I could hear his voice and I could hear coach Ron's voice. And when I wrestled at Iowa, I could hear my dad's voice out of the crowd, and I could hear Dan Gables and Jay Robinson, my other coaches and I could tell. But I asked my mom after I was a junior or senior in high school, would she get nervous? No, not really, because I pinned 45 guys in a row, so they were pretty sure I was going to go out and do okay.

But they got more nervous in the national finals in college and then the Olympics, and things like that when you're wrestling the best guys in the world. I had a big belief in myself and I just did all the right things to get there. It's like I ran cross country for three years, so I was always in great shape when the wrestling season started. And I had 30 matches a year against South Dakota kids, and then I had 30 matches a year during the spring and summer wrestling freestyle against the best guys in the country. And so I kept improving more and more. And so a guy that I'd beat in sixth grade 6-5, the next year I'd beat him 9-0, and two years later, I'd pin him. I was improving more than the other people that I was wrestling.

We lost Tom Long just a couple of years ago, the former Rapid City Stevens wrestling coach, he was an icon. 33 years of coaching, including being your coach. What did Coach Long mean to you?

Well, he was a very good coach, and he never wrestled, himself. And so he didn't really help me with technique, but what he did was... James Swanson was another great wrestler that we had from Rapid City, he was a year older than me and was a two time state champion, and won nationals. Price was the national champion in high school. And Todd Long was, he was smart enough to realize that Jay and I, we were going to all these camps and learning techniques from Dan Gable and other Olympic champs and national champions.

And so he let us show the technique, and he knew that we knew more technique at that point, even when I was a sophomore and junior in high school than he did, so he was letting us show the guys the moves to hit. And I commend them a lot for that and not trying to... He just let us go and do our thing and wrestle. And we knew how to practice hard and win. And then he learned a lot from that, too, I'm sure.

Randy, you talked about wrestling a lot during the season, wrestling a lot in the off season. You started wrestling as a fifth grader. Was it wrestling all the time? Was there any way, any chance that you got tired of wrestling and needed to get away from the sport, starting as a fifth grader?

Okay, I wrestled more and more each year. In seventh, eighth and ninth grades, I pole vaulted, and I set the junior high record at West High for seventh graders as a pole vaulter, because my dad was a state champion pole vaulter in high school. And we had a pole vault pit in our backyard. I lived in two different houses that we had a pole vault ball pit in our backyard. And so I did other sports. I played baseball, I played basketball up through junior high, and I played football through ninth grade. But then when I was a sophomore and a junior and a senior, I ran cross country during the fall to get in shape, to stay in real good shape, so I was in real good shape when wrestling season started.

But then after, it really started the most my junior year when I missed the last two or three weeks of school, and I went to the Olympic training center and worked out with the Olympic team for six weeks when I was... And I tried out for the Olympics when I was a junior in high school, not with the intention of making it, just to get better, to wrestle some of those older guys. I wrestled at 114, but I actually lost 20-9 to the guy who got second at the Olympics, was the alternate for the Olympians that year, Mike McCarthy. And he got second in the NCAAs that year. And I put him on his back three times and lost 20-9, I got three three point near falls on him.

And it was like, okay, so from then on, and I wrestled that whole summer and I wrestled in the AAU national tournament. They also had basically two different national tournaments. There was an AAU and the USWF. And they were kind of at war with each other, and in one year, well in high school, I'd wrestle in both of them. And then they fought over which one of them got to be in charge of the world championships teams and things, and the Olympic teams and stuff like that. So I got there, I wrestled more and more each year and I kept getting better and better.

And my senior year in high school, I became the youngest American to win the Junior Worlds, which is the world championships for 20 and under. And the guy that I pinned to win that won the world tournament the next two years, and his name was Tomiyama, Hideaki Tomiyama from Japan. And he and I both ended up winning the Olympics in 1984. And I pinned him in 1977 to win the Junior Worlds, and then he beat me the next year in the Senior Worlds, 18-10 down in Mexico City. We both made world teams the next year. So I just kept getting better and better, and doing all the right things and getting really good workout partners, and learning and working real hard at the Junior World training camp. We were running 11 miles a day, which was insane.

And Andre Mesker and I were both in high school and we wanted to go wrestle in the high school nationals. Andre was from Michigan at the time, and he ended up in the hall of fame, and he never made an Olympic team, but he made five world teams and got second, got three world medals. Got second in the world twice, and third once. And he got third in the Junior Worlds that year. And we wanted to go wrestle at the AAU national tournament, and our coach wouldn't let us go unless we agreed to run a mile after each match. So I went there and I wrestled 18 matches in three days, Greco-Roman and freestyle. And I ran 11 miles in between, and I didn't have time to run them all. And I apologized to him. I said, "Hey, I only ran 11 miles today." And he said, "Don't worry about it."

That was a guy named Bill Wick. He was an NCAA champion and a great coach. And I just kept doing all the right... Working hard and outworking everybody, and working the right way, getting good coaching, good partners. And I had a wild style of, I felt like I was supposed to pin everybody and representing South Dakota because I pinned 45 guys in a row. And I see where Kellen March, who broke my record last year with 49 pins in a row, he just beat, his first college match, he beat the guy ranked seventh in the country in division one. And he's at North Dakota State. So South Dakota has had some great wrestlers.

Yeah, yeah. Then let's see, who's the... And the, well, geez. How about, I'm drawing a blank on his name right now, but I'll catch it in a minute, from... He wrestled against Logan Storley. This is division one, three years in a row South Dakota boys wrestled for third and fourth place at the NCAA tournament. Logan Storley and, I'm drawing a blank on the other kid's name.

Nash Hutmacher of Chamberlain and Kellen March. Kellen March both broke your pin record on the same day last year.

Yeah, it's unreal. 40 years I held that record, but it was just a state record that they broke. At the time when I said it was a national record, but it got broke about six times on the national level. But for the state record in South Dakota, 45 straight pins lasted for 40 years, and yeah, Nash Hutmacher and Kellen March both broke it on the same day in tournaments, they were about two hours apart. They were both within an hour of Sioux Falls.

Talking about your style as a high school wrestler, did it change in college, and did it change in your preparation for the Olympics?

My sophomore and junior years, my sophomore year, I was 29-0 with 29 pins. And I was 30-O with 27 pins in my junior year, and 30-0 with 27 pins. So I was always the 'pinner.' But my junior year, I got beat at the USWF nationals. I got beat 8-7 and 11-9. When I got in on the shot from them, I scored, and when they get it on me, they scored. And I went to the Olympic trials and I tried out, and that's where I was at 114. But I watched Wade Shalles wrestle, and he won the Olympic trials tournament and he beat Lee Kemp in there, and Lee Kemp went on to win three world titles. And I watched Wade Shalles let people in on his leg, and he pulled them up and threw them with a leg lace thrown. And he did all these, he had these funky little moves. And I changed my style my senior year in high school.

I mean, I knew I was pretty much going to pin anybody, so I didn't shoot near as much. And I changed my stance and I let people shoot in on my legs, because I wanted to get really good. And in six months, I got really, really good at counter wrestling, so I changed it a lot. I tell people I had the impossible leg and the nearly impossible leg. This leg, it's impossible for you to score on me, and this one's nearly impossible. I learned that from Stan Dezek and Wade Shalles. And I just kept getting better and better, and I'd add things. And sometimes the same moves that worked for me as a freshman and sophomore in college, as soon as they didn't work against the best guys in the country, and if it didn't work against national champions, if it only worked against guys that were lesser wrestlers, then I threw it out and I didn't use it, because I was trying to beat the best guys in the nation and the best guys in the world.

You had Dan Gable as your coach at Iowa when you went there, won a couple of titles. And he was also your coach for the Olympics. So 15 years, you guys were together. I mean, did he also play a part of the way and the style of your wrestling in college and in the Olympics?

Yeah, a little bit, a little bit. But more so than that was Jay Robinson helped me with my technical things, like what I needed to do to beat specific people. And I'd never really had to change my style very much, but there were small adjustments you had to make, and I was able to pick them up really fast. And okay, like put your hand here instead of here. Three inches higher for this, and things like this. Wrestling was something that you could show me something and I would understand it right away, because I spent so much time on the mat. And I had a style in practice that I'd let people get in on me and get behind me, and I'd try all these different things and see what worked. I tried a lot.

I put myself in a lot of positions that I would not get in, in a match unless somebody who was really, really good to get me there. But I'd let guys get me into some positions where I'd see if I could come out. And I came out of some stuff. People pick me up in the air with a double, they'd have me on their shoulders and I would still take them down every time. I mean, I just kept getting better and better. And the techniques that I used as a freshmen and sophomore, people scout. Once you become the best guy in the country, then everybody's watching film and they're scouting you. And you got to add new moves. And I always had new moves. And so in 1980 when I made the Olympic team, I had never hit a single gut wrench on anybody, which was a move that you use on top.

And that's because the rules then didn't really allow gut wrenchers, that you just scored it 2-2, unless you went with the real high arch. Well, then they changed the way that they scored it. So in 1984, four years later, I was the best guy in the world with the gut wrench. And then I was even better in 1988 with the gut wrench. And so they've changed the rules and they'd shorten the matches, and wrestling's gone through, every four years, they changed the rules. I was able to add new things. So the moves that I hit on you two years ago, I might've hit the move 20 times two years ago. My sophomore year in college, I might've hit my favorite move 20 different times. And then two years later, I never hit it again because people learned how to turn it, or I learned something from that position better than that.

And the lace leg that I learned from Wade Shalles back in 1976, I pinned a lot of great people, threw some great people with it. Hit it in the NCAA finals when I was a junior in college. Well, in 1986, I blew my knee out and I had a real bad injury to my right knee, so I could never lace that leg again and hit that throw. Well, then I learned how to just step outside and block the knee on the outside and it was better technically, and it was faster, and I would have never learned it if I wouldn't have got injured.

And all of a sudden, it was the move that I hit on John Smith and Nate Carr and Tom Brands, and those are three world champs, an Olympic champ. Those are three great wrestlers, and I hit it on the Russian, it was a world champ at 149. I hit him three times on it in one match. And it was a new technique that I learned that I had to do, because I couldn't lace leg a guy. So I was always adding new stuff all the time. And I experimented in all sorts of positions in practice.

I want to talk about an event that most people, if they want to see it, they can still go to YouTube and find it. But it was, I believe April 2nd, 1980, Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City. 7,000 people at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center between team USA and the Soviet Union. And I was told that it was the first live broadcast on national television from South Dakota. That it was the very first live broadcast in South Dakota on national television. That one from my good old friend, Bob Laskowski, who used to be my radio partner. And of course, Bob was a Rapid City broadcaster for many, many years before he joined me in Sioux Falls. But one, how did Rapid City get to host that dual? Do you know the story behind that?

Yeah, but that's thanks to my dad. The Russians would come over once a year when they wrestled, it was usually a week or two after the NCAA tournament, so it would be around the first week of April. And they came and they'd wrestle three dual meets against the United States, and they'd wrestle in the World Cup, which was always in Toledo, Ohio. And cities would bid on it and they'd make a proposal. And my dad wanted Rapid City to have it. He knew about it because I'd been and wrestled in some other duels. And he inquired if Rapid City could have it, and my dad put it on it. He organized everything. And to this day, Stan Dezek, and Jim Scheer and Bill Sheer, and almost everybody that was there and everybody that knows, they said that was the most successful USA/Russia dual meet ever, still to this day. And it was the first time we'd ever beat the Russians in a dual meet. And it had the biggest crowd and it was just fantastic.

And you pinned to the two time world champion. What was that like after the pin and the crowd just went crazy?

Well, the only greater win I've had than that was, that was way better than winning the NCAAs. The only bigger win for me was winning the Olympics. And that was my second biggest thing, was that pin in Rapid City.

Have you ever considered coaching, getting coaching in the more whether the high school or the college level?

I wrestled for 15 years at Iowa. I wrestled until I was 33 and I coached while I was there. And I consider myself more of a wrestler than a coach. I got out of coaching because you couldn't make a living at it. When I was 33 years old, Barry Davis had been the assistant coach at Iowa for six years, and his salary was $23,000 a year. Wrestling was way underpaid, the coaches were. There was no other coach. Jimmy's last year was as the other assistant, and he was making $29,000 a year. There was no coach at the University of Iowa besides those two making less than $30,000 a year. So I wanted to make a good living, and so my dad has some money and he helped me buy a video store down in Arizona and I moved down there. And I made good money and like playing golf and this and that.

And I still went, when I was down there. I coached, I was the volunteer coach for Phoenix Junior College for two years, and a volunteer coach at Arizona State for two years, so I have done some coaching. And when I was 47 years old, I ended up back in Iowa City and I ended up coaching the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. I was the head coach of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club for three years. And during those three years, Tom Brands and the Iowa Hawkeyes won three national titles. We won all three years that I was there and I'm proud to be a part of that. And I still hop on, I do clinics every now and then.

But when Jimmy Skalaski was the head coach at Iowa, after he'd won three NCAA titles, his salary was $62,000 a year. And at that time I was making a lot more than that owning a video store. Now, Tom Brands is making $450,000 a year. So it's like, would you like to be a pro athlete if they weren't paying you enough to live on? No. I'd like to coach wrestling, but not when I'm poor and can't pay my bill.

Times have changed a little bit, as a few South Dakota wrestlers after high school or college went to compete in mixed martial arts, the MMA. Devin Clark of Sioux Falls, Logan Storley of Webster, David Mashad of Pine Ridge, Brock Lesner, of course, of Webster. Now, if MMA were around when you were competing, would that have interested you?

Yeah, that would have, I mean, I never got in fights, but you don't need to get in fights to be good in the MMA. I was really good in wrestling and I understood the choke holds very well. I experimented with it a little and I think I could have been very good there. And I would like fighting and making a million dollars a year more than wrestling and making $20,000 a year.

You're 61. what still interests you about wrestling today?

Right now, they've got really good rules in wrestling, there's a lot more action. I mean, the rules in wrestling internationally, I swear to God, I did a thing. They got more low scoring and more boring every single year. FILA, the international governing body of wrestling was terrible. They almost got the wrestling kicked out of the Olympics, and so they had to make major changes. And I went to 40 straight NCAA tournaments and everybody knows me there and I have so many friends in wrestling, everybody knows me and I know everybody. And so I'm still around it and I follow it, but there's some great wrestling with great skills right now. And it's a great sport.

Girls wrestling in South Dakota. Don't have the full squad of 13 weight classes, but it is the first year. Your thoughts of girls wrestling now in South Dakota?

Well, I'm glad they do. And they've got girls in the Olympics now, and I doubt they'll ever have as many weight classes as the men because, okay, there's not very many. There's not 185 pounds girls and 220 pound girls and heavyweight girls that are going to want to wrestle. So if they're at 98, 105, 112, they're not going to get that many, just because they aren't big girls.

But there is a lot of interest. There is certainly a lot of interest in it, which is great to see.

Oh yeah.

Canton and some of these schools around Sioux Falls, they're seeing a lot of interest and I think it's going to be great here in the state. All right, last question for you. Probably the most asked question for Randy Lewis, and it certainly was when Jimmy Carter said, in 1980, "We're not going to the Olympics, we're boycotting." Were you the number one wrestler in the world at the time? You had a chance to be an Olympic champion in 1980.

I think in 1980, I will tell you this. I was the healthiest, I was in the best shape of my life. I was the healthiest I'd ever been. The matches were nine minutes, they were longer than they are now, and they were actually packed. I would have had a chance to pin my way through the Olympics. I pinned the Russian two time world champ, who would have been an Olympian, but he got hurt and didn't go, so I never did wrestle the guy. I pinned the guy that got second, third and fourth in the Olympics that year. I would have had a chance to pin everybody I wrestled in the Olympics. And those foreigners could not go nine minutes with me, and it'd be like, I could be 10-10 at the end of the first period, I had wild matches so action packed. And that I would have been very hard for any foreigner to beat in 1980.

What did that disappointment mean to you and how did you handle it in 1980, when you weren't going to go to the Olympics?

I don't really remember being that disappointed over it because you know what? I mean, I was only a junior in college at the time. I was the youngest guy in the Olympic team, and I said, "Well, I guess I'll have to wait four more years to win the gold." And that's what I had to do. So I don't remember being devastated by it.

You had to wait four years though, to get that Olympic gold medal.

It was more devastating to me when they took a world title away from me in '82 in the semi-finals, when I pinned my first five guys that I wrestled, and then wrestled the defending world champ and beat him 13-11. And then I came back to wrestle in the finals that night, and they told me I'm wrestling third and fourth. They screwed me and they went behind closed doors and they made up points and they gave him a 13-13 criteria decision. And then they tried to steal the Olympics from me in '84 when USA wrestling did that after I beat Lee Roy Smith. So those things really, really hurt when they... After I won the match and got my hand raised, they stole a victory from me and gave it to the other guy. That was brutal.

Lee Camp and some of these other guys that were, and Gene Mills, that only made one Olympic team and were at their best in 1980. I'm fortunate that I did get another opportunity. And I almost, in '88, I beat John Smith and won the trials, won the Olympic trials there. And I was on top of the world then and I beat the Russian world champ and the Russian silver medalist in the Olympics that year. So I don't ever sit back and think about not being there. I was good enough to win the Olympics three times, maybe even four. And I mean, in 1992, I moved up to 149 and I wrestled the world champ and beat him and pinned him, and wrestled three different guys who got second and third in the world, and pinned them and beat them. I don't have a memory of being disappointed. I know I was disappointed that we didn't get to go, but I'd never dwell on it or think about it.