I recently was put in the strange position of being in total agreement with Donald Rumsfeld. The former Secretary of Defense called out the Olympics for deciding to omit wrestling from the games. His Washington Post op-ed piece said the decision was made in the spirit of too much "kumbayah," and proceeded to lay out a concise and scholarly history of wrestling as a sport and why its place in the games should be honored.
It's a very good article, made all the better by the fact that Rumsfeld was himself a wrestler in high school, college, and during his time in the Navy, even competing for an Olympic spot at one point. Aside from all that was a favorite bit of wrestling trivia among historians, that our own Abraham Lincoln was a well-known and talented wrestler in his day. The statement seems strange, but Politifact confirmed it is totally accurate.
Nor is he the only one. Today we celebrate our presidents that have gone to the mat before they went to the White House in handy collector card form!
As a frontiersman in his late teens and early 20s, Abraham Lincoln was an avid wrestler, which at the time was more close combat than technical sport. He began his career by throwing hijackers bodily from his brother's barge. His peak came when he defeated champion Jack Armstrong in a high profile match that ended when Lincoln, fed up with Armstrong's fouls and cheats, executed a tremendous powerslam that knocked Armstrong out cold.
Fun Fact: In his 12-year career, Lincoln suffered only one recorded defeat.
George Washington was a gentleman, and studied the collar-and-elbow style of grappling that was practiced at the Reverend James Maury's Academy when he attended. His practice of the art was strictly academic, though, he held at least one title. Even years later as commander of the Continental Army he would demonstrate his uncanny prowess be defeating seven volunteers in a row through grappling takedowns.
Fun Fact: Washington's signature throw was the flying mare, a brutal flipping throw that capitalized on his height.
Though William H. Taft is famous for being the most obese of presidents, as a wrestler when he was younger he clocked in at a much more normal 250 lbs. Like Washington, he was a collegiate wrestler of the collar and elbow style at Yale. "Big Bill" was also on the rowing team, and commanded fearsome upper body strength to become an intramural heavyweight champion. He followed the sport all his life as an avid fan
Fun Fact: Taft is in the rare company of Shane McMahon and Jean-Jacques Rougeau as a 4th generation wrestler.
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As one of America's greatest soldier-presidents, it's no surprise that Dwight D. Eisenhower had a combative edge while attending West Point, where he both boxed and wrestled. He was trained in the brutal catch-as-catch-can style by the legendary American heavyweight champion "Rough Tom" Jenkins. Jenkins was selected as West Point instructor by Theodore Roosevelt, and is considered one of the strongest and most able grapplers of all time.
Fun Fact: Eisenhower wasn't Jenkins' only famous pupil. He also coached George S. Patton and Omar Bradley.
Theodore Roosevelt was known for climbing mountains, riding moose, doing judo, and basically being America's most badass president. Better known for his boxing, Roosevelt was actually superior as a wrestler. He kept detailed records of his many victories at Harvard, and as Governor of New York purchased a mat so that he could grapple with the Middleweight Champion of America three or four afternoons a week.
Fun Fact: "Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake there would have been a fight." - Thomas R. Marshall