ISU Has Rich Olympic Tradition

3 Olympians-3

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will begin August 5 and three former Cyclone athletes have solidified a chance to compete for medals on the world’s stage.

Hilary Bor (United States, steeplechase), Betsy Saina (Kenya, 10,000 meters) and Mohamed Hrezi (Libya, marathon) will represent Iowa State at the XXXI Olympiad. Current ISU women’s hoops star Bridget Carleton is also still fighting for a spot on the Canadian Olympic women’s basketball roster.

Iowa State has a rich history of success in the Olympic Games, accumulating a total of 13 medals in Olympic history. At least one Cyclone has competed at the Olympic Games since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

There are plenty of stories of Cyclone Olympic success and listed below are some highlights of Iowa Staters making their mark with the world’s elite.

Jon Brown: The Marathon Man
Jon Brown never earned a medal in the Olympics, but the former Cyclone national champion could be considered the “seasoned veteran” of Cyclone Olympians by appearing in three different Olympiads (1996 in Atlanta; 2000 in Sydney; 2004 in Athens).

Brown, along with Sunday Uti (track & field) and Curt Bader (kayaking), are the only three Cyclones to compete in three different Olympics. Representing Great Britain, Brown competed in the 10,000-meter in 1996 and ran the marathon in 2000 and 2004.

Brown earned the distinction as one of Iowa State’s top distance runners in school history while competing for the Cyclones from 1989-92. In his final season as a Cyclone, Brown posted one of the greatest seasons in ISU’s storied track & field program. He recorded five Big Eight titles, one NCAA crown (5,000-meter Indoor) and finished second at the Big Eight Cross Country Championship.

Brown experienced incredible success in the marathon on the international level, twice narrowly missing out on a medal by placing fourth at the 2000 Olympics (Sydney) and the 2004 Olympics (Athens).

Without a doubt, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles was a shining moment for the Iowa State track & field programs. Eight members of the Cyclone men’s and women’s track teams competed in L.A., three earning medals.

Nawal El-Moutawakel, who was the national champion in the 400-meter hurdles that same year, won the Gold Medal and set an Olympic record in the 400-meter hurdles. A native of Morocco, El-Moutawakel became the first Cyclone track & field athlete, first African woman and the first Arabic woman to capture an Olympic Gold medal. El-Moutawakel is currently one of the highest-ranking officials on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is the Coordination Commission chair for the Rio Olympics.

On the men’s side, the Cyclones received outstanding efforts from Danny Harris and Sunday Uti. Harris was coming into his own as an elite 400-meter hurdler. He only lost twice in 1984, both times to the legendary Edwin Moses. He collected the Silver Medal in 1984 and eventually ended Moses’ 122-race winning streak in 1987.

Uti joined Harris on the medal stand by earning a Bronze Medal in the 4X400-meter relay as a member of the Nigerian team. It was the second of three-straight Olympic appearances (1980-Moscow; 1988-Seoul) for the eight-time All-American.


Sunday Uti (left) and Danny Harris pose with their Olympic medals in 1984.


Nawal - Medal Stand - 1

Nawal El-Moutawakel receives her Gold Medal in 1984.

Wrestling Glory
The Iowa State wrestling program was at its peak in 1972 and its all-star lineup was on display at the Munich Olympics that summer. The Cyclones were fresh off their third NCAA title in four seasons and four Cyclones were competing in Germany in Dan Gable, Ben Peterson, Chris Taylor and Bob Buzzard.

Gable firmly cemented his legacy by capturing the Gold Medal as a lightweight. He did it in dominating fashion by not surrendering a point the entire tournament.

Peterson also earned Gold, winning as a light heavyweight. It was the first of two medals for the Cyclone national champion, as Peterson claimed a Silver Medal four years later at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Peterson also qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but didn’t get a chance to wrestle because of the United States boycott.

Taylor earned a Bronze Medal at super heavyweight, but not without controversy. Taylor lost to two-time Olympic champion Alex Medved when a Turkish referee deducted a point against Taylor for passivity, allowing Medved to come away with the victory.

Despite Taylor’s loss, the Cyclone wrestling program made Iowa State proud by bringing home three medals.

Peterson, Ben Olympics

Ben Peterson is one of ISU’s most decorated Olympic wrestlers.


Basketball Elite

Earning a spot on the United States Men’s Basketball Olympic team is considered one of the top achievements in hoops. Iowa State All-American Jeff Grayer proved his worth by making the U.S. Olympic hoops team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, becoming the first and only Cyclone to make the U.S. Olympic basketball team.

Grayer was on the last Olympic team which solely used college players. Four years later the world would be introduced to the Dream Team in Barcelona.

The Big Eight for years had fought the stereotype of just being a football conference, but the 1988 Olympic team proved that myth was false with three players from the league making the team in Grayer, Danny Manning (Kansas) and Mitch Richmond (Kansas State).

Grayer helped the U.S. team win its first six games before suffering a semifinals loss to the Soviet Union, 82-76, the U.S. team’s only second loss in Olympic competition. The squad defeated Australia, 78-49 to win the Bronze Medal the following day.

Grayer played in all eight games at the 1988 Olympics, averaging 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds.

Grayer, Jeff-1988 US Olympic team

ISU All-American and former NBA star Jeff Grayer in action at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.


Glen Brand: ISU’s First Olympic Gold Medalist

The person who holds the distinction as the first Cyclone to medal in the Olympics is Glen Brand, who was a national champion wrestler in 1948.

A native of Clarion, Iowa, Brand began his Iowa State career when he was 22 years old after serving in the Pacific Theater (Guam) in World War II as a Marine. He enrolled at Iowa State in 1945 and quickly became one of the best wrestlers in school history.

Brand was the runner-up national champion in 1947 and won the national title at 174 pounds in 1948, capping off his Cyclone career with a 54-3 mark.

Brand immediately set his sights on Gold, making the Olympic team in London in 1948. He accomplished his goal by winning the Gold Medal as a middleweight, becoming the first Iowan to graduate from a high school in the state to win a Gold Medal.

Brand, Glen006

ISU wrestling legend Glen Brand was the first Cyclone to earn a medal in the Olympics, claiming a Gold Medal in 1948.


About Mike Green

I'm in my 21st year working in the Athletics Communications office at Iowa State and in my third year as Director of Communications. My passion has always been ISU Athletics and the seed was planted by my father, Ken, who was an All-Big Eight pitcher for Iowa State in 1960. I graduated from UNI in 1993, where I was a two-year letterwinner on the golf team, and received my master's at ISU in 1997. I've covered volleyball, wrestling, baseball, golf, football and men's basketball at ISU, including 13 seasons as the men's hoops contact. It's an honor to be the football contact for Coach Campbell and the Cyclones. I've got stories to tell, and I love telling them.
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One Response to ISU Has Rich Olympic Tradition

  1. Lee Ayers says:

    Mike…I’m sure you are also aware of the Peterson connection with Ben’s brother, John, who was also a medalists in two Olympiads in wrestling. John went to a small bible college in Wisconsin but in 1972 and 1976 he would come to ISU to train with Ben and the rest of the Cyclone wrestlers in preparation for the Olympics.

    Ben won gold in 1972 and silver in 1976, as you noted. John was just the opposite, winning silver in 1972 and gold in 1976. Ironically, both of the Petersons received their silver medals after losing to the same Soviet wrestler in the two different games. The Soviet wrestler moved up a weight class in 1976 and wrestled Ben in the finals.

    When John was training in Ames for the 1976 games, he and I became friends and I even did some training with him. NOT wrestling. But John liked to run and play racquetball. So he and I would do some running and play racquetball a couple times a week together when my class schedule would allow it.

    I remember that summer when it was time for John’s gold medal match, I took my lunch break from my work as a carryout boy at the local Super Value grocery store in town. I told my boss that my friend was wrestling for the gold medal and I might need more than an hour for lunch, depending on if they were on schedule. My boss was very generous and told me to take my time. It was amazing to see a guy you knew personally win a gold medal on TV.

    Good times! Love the stories!

    Lee Ayers
    Class of ’78


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