Wrestling Had Benefactor Other Sports Could Only Wish For
Jan. 30, 1996
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Chemical company heir John E. du Pont thought the trees on his suburban estate were filled with Nazis and his walls were filled with ghosts.
And while the world-class wrestlers training at his Foxcatcher center were subject to this bizarre behavior _ they were also the recipients of one of the sport's most generous patrons.
While Olympic hopefuls in secondary sports often find themselves working 40 hours a week on top of training countless hours, du Pont's athletes had few worries about money _ and could count on his Lear Jet to get them to their next meet.
Athletes in sports that don't bask in the attention basketball and figure skating enjoy have long found themselves wanting when it came to money. But benefactors like du Pont have made a great difference to wrestling in recent years.
``Wrestling was definitely a unique situation,'' said John Halpin, a spokesman for the U.S. Weightlifting Federation. ``We have nothing like that.''
Du Pont, who is accused of murdering champion wrestler and coach Dave Schultz, donated more than $3 million to the Olympic wrestling's governing body from 1987 to 1995 _ on top of paying stipends of up to $650 a month to some of the sport's top athletes.
Many in Olympic sports agree that du Pont's support of wrestling is a cautionary tale in the wake of Schultz's shooting. But they also say that money he provided serves as an example of the success top flight athletes can enjoy when they get the money they need.
Athletes in other sports, like weightlifting, have to struggle to make ends meet.
Members of that Olympic team receive only a $100 monthly stipend from the United States Olympic Committee, and just five of the 10 athletes who will represent the United States in the sport are able to train fulltime at the team training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Halpin said.
``Those other five guys are out there working 40 hours a week,'' Halpin said. ``This is a tough sport to train for, it takes a lot of hours, and it's very hard on the body.''
In addition to paying up to 50 percent, and in some cases more, of the operating budgets of the governing bodies of 40 Olympic sports, the USOC gave direct grants of $4.1 million to athletes in those sports in 1995. Grants ranged from $1,200 to $8,400 per athlete.
One former Olympic medalist said it is not enough.
``Most people think of Olympic athletes as having money, but unless its a sport like basketball or track and field that's not the case,'' said Chris Campbell, a bronze medalist in the Barcelona Games and a member of the USOC executive committee. ``Olympians are very vulnerable financially.''
Campbell, now a corporate lawyer in Syracuse, N.Y., said his finances once dwindled so far while he was training for his first Olympics in 1980 that he had to go on food stamps.
He believes that the USOC should see to it that athletes who have proven themselves to be of world class caliber should get as much as $25,000 a year to cover their living expenses.
``Some people think (athletes) should be doing it of their own free will,'' Campbell said. ``But people have to understand that people don't give you an apartment or food just because you are an Olympian.''
Peter Westbrook, a fencer who has competed in five Olympiads and won the bronze medal in 1984, said that all sports need to do everything they can to support their athletes _ and ensure they haven't overlooked any talent.
``A lot times, the people we send to the Olympics are not the best talent we have,'' Westbrook said. ``They are the ones who can afford to be there.''
Westbrook has begun a program to search the inner cities for fencing talent and then provide the financial backing the athletes need to succeed.
``You can have all the talent you want, but without the coaching, the support from the USOC, the corporate sponsorships, you'll never become an Olympian,'' Westbrook said. ``It's just too expensive.''
Raising money for athletes is a full-time job for many of the smaller sports.
Triathalon Federation USA, which will field its first Olympic team in 2000, hired a company in California to handle its fundraising after failing on its own to generate needed cash, said Tim Yount, the federation's deputy director.
``We're a sport that doesn't get a lot of attention,'' Yount said, adding that he hopes the situation changes after the 2000 Olympics.
Campbell said benefactors like du Pont and Art Martori, who founded a similar team in Arizona in the late 1970s, showed that putting money into athletes produces immediate results.
``We went from being fifth or sixth in the world to being No. 1 after guys like that got involved,'' Campbell said. ``Wrestling was lucky that there were people who had money who were interested in the sport.''
Dan Gable, who coached the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 and 1984 and won a gold medal in 1972, said that du Pont's money helped his sport at a crucial time.
``We were close to being in the hole,'' Gable said. ``This guy stepped up.''
But the positive impact du Pont made on the sport became forever marred Friday when three bullets brought down Schultz, ending the life of one of the sport's best teachers and most ferocious competitors.
``If you look at it now, you'd have to question all the help that has been given and say maybe it wasn't worth it,'' Gable said. ``No one's life is worth it.''