Igali a champ!
By BRET HART -- Calgary Sun
I met Dynamite in Calgary the other day.
No, not that one .... the other one. Daniel 'Dynamite' Igali
. The first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal for amateur wrestling.
What a great guy. Humble. Well spoken. Idolizes Nelson Mandala. Besides that, he's a superb wrestler. I was absolutely riveted when he competed in Sydney.
Daniel told me how his Canadian sponsor 'mother', stricken with cancer, came to him in a dream during a nap before the match. The words she said inspired him to win the gold, which he dedicated to her. Five days later, she was gone, leaving Daniel to spread his passion for amateur wrestling to honour her memory.
Ironically, "What I like most about wrestling," he says, "is that you get to make all the decisions, which in the end either makes you or breaks you." I agree -- in amateur wrestling. But I'm the best proof that in pro wrestling, the promoter has control. Life after amateur wrestling sometimes leads to pro wrestling and we kidded about it, but with not a lot of money in amateur wrestling, pro wrestling is a reasonable alternative.
Just look at the successful pro careers of Danny Hodge, Bob Backlund, the Steiner brothers and more recently, Kurt Angle, to name a few. Maybe sometimes pro wrestling angles don't give these champions the respect they deserve, like the storyline sexcapades of Olympic lifter Marc Henry, for example, but for the most part pro wrestling can be a good career move after an amateur career.
"In terms of a career," Igali says, "my aim is to work in the criminal justice department in some capacity. I will finish my criminology degree. But if I land a job working in a sporting field, criminology might have to take second place."
Igali immigrated here from Africa, where he lived in a village with 20 brothers and sisters. And here we thought 12 Hart kids was a lot! "In my tribe, the Ijaw tribe in Nigeria, wrestling is our favourite pastime and most people wrestle for the fun of it. I always just grew up wrestling."
I get letters from parents all the time asking how they can get their kids started in pro wrestling. My best advice is to take them to a good amateur wrestling school instead. It's a great character builder. Endurance wise, it's the toughest sport. You use every single muscle in your body, think on your feet and develop lightning quick reflexes. Maybe more importantly, even though you're on a team, when you're on the mat you have only yourself to answer to and it's a great confidence builder.
We're fortunate to have a good amateur wrestling school right here in Calgary. The King of the Mat wrestling club is run out of David Thompson Middle School. I enjoyed a chat with head coach Mike Dunn at a meet where Igali was a special guest.
"Our goal is to prepare young people to compete at the provincial and national age group championships," says Dunn. "We have produced many national champions and countless provincial champions, both male and female.
"These achievements require extreme commitment and dedication on and off the mat and we believe that successful experiences on the mat lead young people to make positive choices in their everyday lives."
Igali echoes those sentiments.
"A great part of being Olympic champion is that it gives me more opportunities to impart my knowledge to the younger ones in our sport. I would advise young wrestlers to keep to their dreams and give their best to wrestling.
"Remember that you will learn as much from losing as you will from winning."
Igali is the first Canadian to win the worlds and now the Olympic gold, but his insatiable drive for competition still isn't satisfied. He told me he's thinking of maybe winning it all again!
Amateur wrestling is often a quiet, thankless pursuit. There are no pep rallies or cheerleaders. I have often wished there could be more attention paid to a sport that has such positive benefits for kids. Every once in a while, an outstanding role model comes along that heightens awareness to his or her game. Igali has turned the spotlight on amateur wrestling. "I realize that what I do now will not only affect me, but the image of wrestling. I may not be perfect, but I'm trying to represent the sport and youth as much as I can."
I am impressed with this fine young wrestler and after a fun day together neither of us could deny that we'd been sizing each other up and the showdown was inevitable. The moment came. We were eyeball to eyeball. I beat him -- in two straight games of billiards. Proof that good guys don't always win! Next time, he comes to town, he'd better bring his own cue.