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Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dan M. Gable and an Exchange With Reporters

December 07, 2020

The President. Thank you very much. And today it's my privilege to present our Nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to one of the greatest wrestlers in American history: Iowa legend, Dan Gable. He has been an incredible inspiration to so many people.

We're joined today by Dan's wonderful wife Kathy and their incredible and large family, including 13 grandchildren. Thank you very much. Thank you, Kathy, very much. It's a great honor for us too. Thank you for being here.

We're also joined by Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley—where's Chuck? Chuck? Congratulations on everything, Chuck. And Joni Ernst, who just had a big victory. Thank you, Joni. What a job. What a job. They had you down a couple of points, and you won by a lot. So, you know——

Senator Joni K. Ernst. Thank you.

The President. ——it's one of those things that you really—you should be very proud of yourself. You campaigned hard, and that was a tremendous victory. Thank you very much.

And also, Representatives Jim Jordan—where's Jim? A great wrestler, a really great wrestler. I won't go over the record, because the only way you're not great is compared to this guy, perhaps. [Laughter] But he's a warrior in every way, and we appreciate you being here.

And, Markwayne Mullin, thank you very much for being here. And I'm glad your son is doing well and setting records also. So these two guys are great. They're really, really fantastic people.

Dan was born and raised in the working-class town of Waterloo, Iowa. His mother said she knew Dan would be a wrestler the day they brought him home from the hospital. Even as an infant, Dan refused to let his back even touch the ground. That's sort of an interesting statement. [Laughter] Probably so.

At 4 years old, his parents sent him to the local YMCA where he learned to swim, wrestle, and play football. When he reached high school, Dan decided to commit himself entirely to wrestling. His coach quickly saw his unmatched intensity and gave Dan the keys to the gym so he could come first thing in the morning to practice. At first, Dan was alone, but as he achieved one victory after another, the rest of the team followed his lead. He worked hard, but he was also born with something very special. It's called talent. And talent, you either have it, or you don't.

During his time in high school, Dan's beloved sister Diane—toughest time in his life—was murdered. Afterwards, Dan poured even more of his energy into wrestling, and his exceptional success brought happiness and pride to his family, especially in overcoming this incredible heartbreak that they had with what happened to Diane.

As a high school wrestler, Dan went 64-and-0, not losing a single match. And I have to say Jim Jordan told me all about—I knew all about Dan, but he told me things that are pretty amazing. Right, Jim? Pretty amazing.

Dan then attended Iowa State, where he secured two NCAA wrestling championships—national wrestling championships; three Big Eight titles; and became a three-time All-American. He won 117 consecutive matches and lost only one. Well, you know, in politics, I won two, so I'm two-and-oh. [Laughter] And that's pretty good too. But we'll see how that turns out.

After that lone defeat, Dan vowed that it wasn't going to happen again. He couldn't stand the feeling of losing a match. He rededicated himself to mastering the sport and soon adapted his wrestling style to reach new heights of greatness. Sports Illustrated labeled Dan the hardest working athlete in the world by far and detailed his rigorous routine of working out two to three times a day, every single day of the week. They estimated that Dan produced 60 pounds of sweat every 7 days. That's a lot. I'm not sure I want to hear about it, but that's a lot. [Laughter] That's a lot of work.

In his pursuit of perfection, Dan suffered multiple injuries: his nose, multiple fingers were broken, and his feet. Very tough stuff. He pushed every single muscle to the absolute limit. Nobody has ever done it like him. But his unwavering grit and focus, it propeled him forward through all of that adversity. Tremendous adversity.

Before matches, Dan would repeat the words "cakes, carries, ducks, picks, shucks, sweeps" over and over again. I'll have to ask Dan why. Why, Dan? [Laughter]

Mr. Gable. Because they're all moves that end the match——

The President. Oh.

Mr. Gable. ——and you get your hand raised.

The President. Oh. Wow.

Mr. Gable. So I—that's—that was going through my head.

The President. That's pretty good.

Mr. Gable. I wasn't worried about his moves; I was only worrying about my moves.

The President. Wow. Well, you did the—whatever it was, you did the right thing. [Laughter]

He had only two things in mind: scoring and dominating. In the midst of the cold war, he was selected to represent Team USA at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The leader of the Soviet wrestling team proclaimed that he would search the U.S.S.R. and find a wrestler that would defeat Dan Gable. That was his big ambition. And they found somebody that was considered one of the greatest anywhere in the world. But they failed. Dan won every match and did not give up a single point.

How many matches in the Olympics, Dan?

Mr. Gable. Six.

The President. So you won every match, and you didn't give up a point.

Mr. Gable. Right.

The President. And that's a record. It's a record, I think, that still stands.

To do that, did the—the Russian in the final did not get a point?

Mr. Gable. The Russian did not get a point.

The President. And what did you win that one by?

Mr. Gable. Only won it three-oh, but——

The President. That's okay. [Laughter] That's pretty good. What do you think, Jim? Have you ever heard of where you go six matches and don't give up a point against great talent?

Rep. James D. Jordan. I watched—yes, I watched——

The President. You watched it, right?

Rep. Jordan. I watched his final match against the Russian, yes.

The President. No, it's amazing. It's really—to me, that's amazing. Not—not giving up a single point.

He toppled Soviet preeminence in the sport. At that time, Russia's—they had the greatest wrestlers in the world, they thought, except for Dan, and they sort of felt they couldn't beat him. Defeated their wrestler in that final match and took home the Olympic Gold Medal.

As a wrestler, Dan set a pin streak record of 25 consecutive pins. Now, I'm larger than you, a little bit. Do you think I could take you in wrestling? Would I have a big advantage?

Mr. Gable. No, you would have no chance. [Laughter]

The President. What do you think? I agree. Do you agree with that, John [John Roberts, Fox News]? I do.

Q. He's the expert.

The President. He is the expert. [Laughter] That is held to this day—25 consecutive pins. He was also the first American to win consecutive World and Olympic titles.

Dan went on to coach at the University of Iowa, where he secured 355 victories and 15 NCAA team titles. And Jim Jordan told me that he was the greatest wrestler ever, but he may have been a better coach. Right, Jim?

Now, has any team, in any sport, ever won 15 NCAA team titles? Because I don't know. I mean, I think that's a lot. That's more than UCLA in basketball, right?

Mr. Gable. Yes.

The President. So I don't know of any—has any—Jim? I don't think so.

Rep. Jordan. I don't know. I think that may be—[inaudible].

The President. I think it's incredible.

His team scored an average of 17 victories for every loss, and he was named the University of Iowa's alltime winningest coach. And I think, probably, you look all over the country, you'd be the alltime winningest coach. So that's incredible. Fifteen NCAA titles.

As a coach, Dan has trained, guided, and mentored 152 All-American athletes, 106 Big Ten champions, 45 national champions, and 12 Olympians. He was also the head coach of three U.S. Olympic teams. Dan has said, quote, "I never jumped for joy as a player, but I always jump for joy as a coach." In other words, he did his job, but he was really rooting for those other people to do theirs. That's great, Dan. That's a great statement.

Dan has been inducted into the U.S.A. Wrestling Hall of Fame, the United States Olympic Hall of Fame, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the United World Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 2013, he helped ensure that wrestling remained a very important top Olympic sport.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame has built a Dan Gable Museum in Dan's hometown, a permanent reminder of the incredible journey that started in the great State of Iowa. I love Iowa. I love Iowa, and I knew those polls were wrong. They had me losing Iowa, Dan, and we won Iowa by a lot. There were a lot of polls that were wrong. I love that State. No one has done more to promote wrestling in America than Dan Gable. He is an athletic giant who conquered one of the most difficult and ancient sports in the world. He is the greatest wrestler, probably, ever. We've never had anybody like him. He has made our country very proud, and he is a true "GOAT." Do you know what "GOAT" is? GOAT. "Greatest of all time," right? He is the greatest of all time.

Today, in recognition of his really exceptional achievements, Dan will become the first wrestler in history to receive this, our most important award, along with the congressional Medal of Honor.

I would now like to ask the Military Aide to step forward to present Coach Dan Gable with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But before doing that, I'd like to have Dan say a few words. Please. Thank you. Dan, please.

Mr. Gable. I might get this down here.

[At this point, Mr. Gable adjusted the height of the microphone.]

Wrestlers are all sizes and shapes, so—[laughter]. I asked how much time I had up here because I'm not used to a short talk, and they said I had 3 minutes. And I'm used to speaking to groups for 45 minutes and so on. And I had one company actually bring me in for 4 hours straight, a talk. And I did it, and they brought me back four more years after that. So I must have did a good job.

I learned to become an assistant coach under a good mentor—a good head coach—at the University of Iowa, and they sent me out into the community to promote the sport that they really weren't exceling at and wanted to do more.

So yes, I learned to talk because I didn't do it well, and talk helped. Yet talk didn't win me over; performance and lifestyle did. It wasn't perfect, because nothing is perfect. But no place on this Earth is perfect, and there's always room for improvement. The success one has with others, as he mentioned, is more important than the success you have as yourself.

I wouldn't be here on this podium if I just had won this Olympic Gold Medal. It has been a lifetime of work, learning from many others to be an outstanding competitor and person, then taking that knowledge and applying it to many, many others in different ways to have them perform at their highest so they can be real successful, and that group of individuals become team members. And because of their individual great performances, great, historic teams and family performances are the results.

Proof is in the results, and the proof is here today: my immediate family of 23, who are all right here, led by my wife Kathy of 46 years. They are living it, and because of this, they all have better chances of success. They are witnessing this historic moment of someone quite ordinary, mostly, going to the highest level as an athlete and then helping others to do the same through the professional level of coaching. I did so for years, showing others that are just watching, reading, or listening who really strive to do the same, it works. It works. Living proof, right there.

For those that couldn't be here because of limitations or have passed, especially my mother Kate, my dad Mack, and my sister Diane—whom he referenced, was murdered in our home as a teenager, because she fought for her life and didn't give in—I know they are here, and they're all proud.

I thank you very much for giving this kid here the opportunity to reach this level of the highest award a civilian can get: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And of course, for all those that push the authority, President Donald J. Trump, I thank you for that, including this family. Because, yes, I know this family has wrestled on and off the mat every day. And to the sport of wrestling, being the first to win this award, it becomes a higher challenge to all that participate. By the way, wrestling isn't for everyone, but it should be. And now females are strongly participating across the world.

I'm so honored to be here. Three minutes, but they gave me maybe a little overtime—not much.

The President. You take your time.

Mr. Gable. And remember: I've never left practice as an athlete or a coach when it was over either. Thank you.

The President. Thank you, Dan. Great job.

Mr. Gable. Thank you.

The President. Can we do it over here? Yes. Come on over here, Dan, and we'll do it over here.

The President. Congratulations, everybody.

[Lt. Col. Brandon M. Westling, USAF, Air Force Aide to the President, read the citation, and the President presented the medal, assisted by Lt. Cmdr. Carlos A. Oroza, USN, Navy Aide to the President.]

The President. We're very proud of you as a nation. And thank you for doing such a great job. We appreciate it.

Mr. Gable. We aren't done yet.

The President. That's true. True. Do you have any questions for Dan, please?

John. For Dan.

Q. For Dan: You know, so many times, college wrestling isn't appreciated in a way that other forms of wrestling are. Do you feel that this lifetime achievement award, for you, fully recognizes the sport of collegiate wrestling?

Mr. Gable. I look as it—as a inspiration and that others will have something that's beyond just winning on the mat; that they'll be able to want to do something like this. And so it will enhance our sport. Because it isn't just like, right now, me and him wrestling and whoever wins the match gets a medal. It's more than that. And that's—opens the door right now for a lot of people.

Q. How does it feel to be in the Oval Office for this today?

Mr. Gable. How does it feel?

Q. To be here.

Mr. Gable. The one time—the one time I didn't focus on what I needed to do, I lost. So you'd have to ask all them. [Laughter] I don't know, where am I? [Laughter]

The President. Well, we're very proud of you, Dan. And thank you very much. Thank you very much, everybody. We appreciate it.

Q. Mr. President——

Q. Question for you, Mr. President——

Personal Attorney to the President Rudolph W. Giuliani

Q. Mr. President, how is Rudy Giuliani doing?

The President. Rudy is doing well. I just spoke to him. He's doing very well. No temperature. And he actually called me early this morning. He was the first call I got. No, he's doing very well. That's another champion. Greatest mayor in the history of New York. And what he's doing now is more important. And he will admit that. He was the greatest mayor, did a fantastic job, especially when you see what's going on nowadays, Dan. Rudy Giuliani was a great, great mayor. And what he's doing now—and he will say it—is even more important.

The President's Claims of Election Fraud

Q. A week from now, Mr. President, the electors will meet to cast their vote. There's not a lot of time between now and then to make your case to overturn the vote. At this point, are you looking to change the outcome of the election or try to make a case to the American people that it wasn't fair?

The President. Well, I think the case has already been made. If you look at the polls, it was a rigged election. You look at the different States. The election was totally rigged. It's a disgrace to our country. It's like a third-world country—these ballots pouring in from everywhere, using machinery that nobody knows ownership, nobody knows anything about. They have "glitches," as they call them. Glitches. The glitches weren't glitches. They got caught sending out thousands of votes, all against me, by the way.

No, this was like from a third-world nation. And I think the case has been made. And now we find out what we can do about it. But you'll see a lot of big things happening over the next couple of days.

And I—very importantly, we're here for a different reason. We're here to present our highest award, our highest achievement, really—something that really speaks to such incredible achievement—to a man who really is a great man and a great figure in sports, not just wrestling, in sports. One of our greatest athletes of all time. And I just want to say it's an honor to be with you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Thank you, everybody. Appreciate it.

NOTE: The President spoke at 12:38 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jim Mullin, son of Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who was injured in a wrestling accident in January. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the reading of the citation.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks on Presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dan M. Gable and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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