Wrestling legend Bill Smith passes away

Wrestling legend Bill Smith passed away at the age of 89 at Humboldt Care Center North on Mar. 20. Smith was the oldest living Olympic Gold medalist. In the photo above, he is shown tipping his hat to the crowd before a wrestling meet in the Humboldt High School gym on Dec. 20, 2016. At right, a photo of Smith as a member of the 1952 USA Olympic team at the 1952 Helsinki Games.

By Phil Monson
Olympic wrestling legend Bill Smith passed away on Tuesday, Mar. 20, at Humboldt Care Center North. A celebration of his life will take place at the Bode Community Center on Saturday, April 14, from 2-6 p.m. with a service at 4 p.m. Ubben/Lentz Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Smith, 89, was the oldest living Olympic medalist. He won the gold medal wrestling for Team USA at 160.5 pounds in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. It was a crowning achievement for Smith, who never lost a match wrestling at Iowa Teacher’s College, now Northern Iowa. He won two National Collegiate championships and three Amateur Athletic Union titles (1949-51).

Smith went on to a long and successful coaching career at various levels
Smith was a 1947 graduate of Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson High School.
After winning his gold medal, he continued to wrestle competitively and at the 1956 Olympic Trials he became the only person to ever give wrestling great Dan Hodge a decisive defeat. However, Smith was not able to wrestle at the Melbourne Olympics that year because he was taken off the team when it was revealed that he had been paid to teach and coach at an Illinois high school (Rock Island), which was then a violation of amateur status.
Although he tried to protect his amateur eligibility by being paid to teach, not to coach, at Rock Island, AAU and Olympic officials didn’t see it that way. They wouldn’t let him go back in quest of another gold medal, saying his coaching work made him a professional.

It may have ended his competitive career, but he went on to a long and successful career that saw him coach at the high school, college and AAU levels.
After leaving Rock Island, Smith coached a high school team in Ann Arbor, MI, for one year, then served as head coach at the University of Nebraska for three years. Next was an eight-year stint as the San Francisco Olympic Club coach, where his teams won three National AAU titles.
Smith also coached Canada’s national team for one year, spent one season at San Jose State, then returned to high school coaching, which included five years at Pacifica in Pittsburgh, CA, and the last three at Clayton Valley, CA, where his team won the 1977 state championship.

Look for a complete obituary and story in the next issue of the Humboldt Independent Newspaper. Subscribe today for print/digital access to the Independent by selecting the link on this page to get started!

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)