Born: November 2, 1960
Town: Haledon, New Jersey
Bruce Robert Baumgartner was born November 2, 1960 in Haledon. His parents, Lois and Bob, wanted him to get involved in sports, but he was too big for youth football and had no interest in baseball. He was more interested in building things and taking things apart, much like his dad, a diesel mechanic. This would serve Bruce well throughout his wrestling career, as he had a knack for breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of opponents, and fixing any flaws in his own performance.
However, Bruce did not take up wrestling until his freshman year at Manchester Regional High School. Until then, his bouts were limited to house-wrecking tussles with his older brother, Rob. Bruce already weighed 190 pounds, but it took him a couple of years to understand how best to use his mountainous physique. As a senior, he was undefeated during the regular season, but lost in the semifinals of the state tournament.
Bruce was an impressive college prospect, despite the fact that he had never finished higher than third in the state tournament. He accepted a scholarship in 1978 from Indiana University, and devoted himself to becoming NCAA champion and winning an Olympic gold medal. Again, it took Bruce a while to put it all together on the college level. He reached the NCAA heavyweight final as a sophomore and junior, but lost both times. In 1981, at the AAU Nationals, Bruce lost to Dan Cook. He would not lose to a countryman again for more than 15 years.
Bruce went 44–0 as a senior and won the 1982 NCAA championship. He graduated with a record of 134–12. That spring, he married Linda Hochman, a trainer whom he had while she was taping his ankles—no small accomplishment given the size of his ankles and how shy Bruce was. They would have four children.
Heading into the 1984 Olympics, Bruce was reaching his peak. At 6’2” and 270 pounds, he had the size, strength and agility of a grizzly bear. It was pointed out at various times in his career that the reason American wrestling lags behind the rest of the world is that people like Bruce end up playing football and making a killing in the NFL. At the height of his career, Bruce’s greatest American rival was superheavyweight Tom Erikson. He beat him more than 20 times in a row.
Bruce was a silver medalist at the 1983 Pan Am Games in Venezuela and won bronze at the 1983 World Championships in Kiev. His first international gold came at the ’84 Olympics in Los Angeles. He won gold at the Pan Am Games again in 1987 and 1991, and the World Champiosnhips in 1986, 1993 and 1995. He also repeated as Olympic champion at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.
In 1990, Bruce became the head wrestling coach at Edinboro University in Western Pennsylvania. Edinboro is a Division-II school in every sport but wrestling. In 1997, Bruce accepted the job of Athletic Director at Edinboro. Not surprisingly, it has remained an NCAA power. By then, he been honored in 1995 with the Sullivan Award as America’s top amateur athlete—and won silver at the 1996 Olympics for his fourth career Olympic medal.