Crimson & Gold: The Magic of '84

John Rohde
By John Rohde Contributor

NORMAN -- The last Summer Olympics that didn't have an Oklahoma Sooner present was the 1928 Games in Amsterdam.

Having at least one representative in each of the last 20 Summer Games is a string that extends 88 years (there were no Olympics in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II).

A total of 75 Sooners (70 athletes and five head coaches) from nine different countries have represented the school at the Olympics and have captured 22 medals all-time with 13 golds, seven silver and two bronze.

The Sooners' most successful Olympics came at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Their efforts were solid gold as gymnast Bart Conner captured two gold medals (team and parallel bars), Wayman Tisdale won team gold in men's basketball and brothers Dave (74 kg) and Mark Schultz (82 kg) won gold in freestyle wrestling. OU pitcher Bobby Witt competed in baseball, which was a demonstration sport that year. The U.S. finished second to Japan, but no medals were awarded.

"Obviously I was quite aware of Wayman and the Schultz brothers because we're all living in the dorms there. There was a bond."
— Bart Conner

Conner knew fellow Sooners were competing in LA, but said leaving the athlete's village to watch them compete was no easy task.

"For the athletes, you kind of stay in your own little silo," Conner recalled. "Obviously I was quite aware of Wayman and the Schultz brothers because we're all living in the dorms there. There was a bond. I remember hanging around the Schultz brothers in the cafeteria. When you're competing, you stay in your sports-specific silo, on your own schedule and doing your own thing."

Eight current and former Sooners will compete in this month's Games at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where Opening Ceremonies will be held Friday night. They are Ronnie Ash (110-meter hurdles/USA), Brittany Borman (javelin/USA), Chris Brooks (gymnastics/USA), Eric Cray (400-meter hurdles/Philippines), Jake Dalton (gymnastics/USA), Ebi Ere (basketball/Nigeria), Laverne Jones-Ferrette (200 meters/U.S. Virgin Islands), Alex Naddour (gymnastics/USA), along with Mark Williams (gymnastics coach/USA). Williams is making his fifth appearance at the Olympics, but his first as head coach. He was an assistant coach in 1996 and served on staff in 2004, 2008 and 2012 as a personal coach.

This will be OU's second-largest contingent at the Summer Games, trailing the nine who competed at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Bart Conner

Conner is considered the most prolific male gymnast in U.S. history. He is the only American male gymnast to win gold medals at every level of national and international competition and was a member of three Olympic teams from 1976-84 (the United States boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow). Conner was a USA Champion, NCAA Champion, American Cup Champion, Pan American Games Champion, World Champion, World Cup Champion and an Olympic Champion. With the Sooners, Conner won 14 NCAA All-America honors and led OU to two NCAA team titles.

Conner playfully admits any doubt about his career achievements ended when he married Romanian Olympic champion gymnast Nadia Comaneci in 1996. "I hedged my bet when I married Nadia. We went from two Olympic medals in my house to 11," Conner joked of combining his two Olympic golds with Comaneci's five gold, three silver and one bronze. Bart and Nadia will serve as commentators for the NBC Network of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.

OU is fresh off winning its 10th national title in men's gymnastics, its seventh under Williams. Three Sooners comprise Team USA's roster with Brooks, Dalton and Naddour. "That's pretty great," Conner said of the OU triumvirate. "I have to say, I'm proud of those guys. They deserve it. They just kicked butt at the Olympic Trials. It was fun to watch. I'm thrilled for them."

Though impressive, having three gymnasts from the same college program on the Olympic team is not unprecedented. The 1984 American team featured Conner and three gymnasts from UCLA with Tim Daggett, Mitch Gaylord and Peter Vidmar.

There were 76 Division I programs in men's gymnastics when Conner was a senior at OU in 1981, but only 15 D-I programs remain today due to budget restraints.

"There was a lot of collegiate feel to it," Conner said of teaming with two gymnasts from Nebraska and three from UCLA in the 1984 Games. "The irony of it was we were intense rivals our whole lives and yet we had to collectively come together like an all-star team in the Olympics to have a shot at that medal. It's an interesting dynamic. The competition we had among us helped us become really polished gymnasts. It had a lot to do with our collegiate experience."

Dave & Mark Schultz

Both members of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Dave and Mark Schultz became the first brothers to win gold medals in the same Olympics (immediately matched by twin brothers Ed and Lou Banach in those same Games). Dave and Mark Schultz also won more Olympic, World, NCAA and U.S. Open titles than any American brother combination in history.

Bullied at school for being chubby as a child and nicknamed "Pudge," Dave Schultz went on to become a seven-time World and Olympic medalist. He later won 10 Senior National titles in three weight divisions over a 19-year span. He initially wrestled at Oklahoma State and placed third at NCAAs, then transferred to OU for his final two seasons and won the 1982 NCAA crown at 167 pounds.

While training for the 1996 Olympics and serving as a coach at the "Team Foxcatcher" training complex on the du Pont family farm in Newtown Square, Pa., 36-year-old Dave Schultz was shot and killed by deranged owner John Eleuthere du Pont on Jan. 26. 1996. Found guilty but mentally ill, du Pont died in prison in 2010.

In 1997, Mark wrote "The Mark Schultz Story," which later became Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold, and the basis for the critically acclaimed film Foxcatcher in 2014. The crime also was documented last year in The Prince of Pennsylvania as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series.

Prior to taking up wrestling, Mark Schultz was a two-time all-around gymnastics champion in California in 1976. He quit gymnastics after his sophomore year, took up wrestling, gained 30 pounds, grew several inches, moved up multiple weight classes and became California high school state champion at 159 pounds at Palo Alto High School as a senior.

Schultz initially wrestled at UCLA, then transferred to OU after his freshman season. He won three straight NCAA crowns with the Sooners from 1981-83. He went undefeated as a senior at 27-0, setting a school record for most victories in a single season without a loss.

Roughly 17 months younger than Dave, Mark went on to become a Pan American champion, Olympic champion and a two-time World champion in freestyle wrestling. In 1996, eight years after his last official wrestling match, he won a fight by technical knockout in UFC IX (bare-knuckle rules) with one day's notice at age 35 and earlier this year was promoted to the rank of black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Schultz said he remembers the entire OU contingent at the 1984 Games. In fact, because of his gymnastics background, Schultz had become friends with Conner.

"It really was pressure-packed," said Schultz, who doesn't recall socializing with many people while waiting for the freestyle competition to finally begin in the closing days.

Schultz recalls going through a security checkpoint at the village when Canada's Chris Rinke went through before him and signed a girl's program. The same girl then asked Schultz for his autograph. "I see you got Rinke's signature," Schultz told her. "And she said, 'Yeah, and he said he's gonna win it.'"

That flipped Schultz' switch. "Blood just rushed into my face," he said. "Now it's on, man. The war is on."

Schultz' toughest match in those Games came in his semifinal against Rinke. "That was as close as any match I had my entire life," said Schultz, who advanced to the 82 kg middleweight gold medal match with a 5-3 win over Rinke on a last-minute takedown. Thinking he had clinched the criteria tiebreaker, Schultz actually had planned to give Rinke a late point and still win with a 4-4 tie.

A year later, while looking at the commemorative championship bracket and re-calculating his match against Rinke, Schultz suddenly realized he actually would have lost the criteria tiebreaker. "I'm doing the math all wrong while I'm wrestling," Schultz said with a chuckle. "Hey, man, I can't do math while I'm wrestling."

Wayman Tisdale

As a standout with the Sooners, Tisdale became the first player in collegiate history ever to be named a first-team All-American as a freshman, sophomore and junior. He left OU prior to his senior year and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. Although he played just three seasons with the Sooners, the 6-foot-9, left-handed Tisdale remains the school's career leader in points (2,661), rebounds (1,048), field goals (1,077) and free throws (507).

Tisdale was chosen for the prolific 1984 Olympic team that included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Sam Perkins. Charles Barkley and John Stockton were among the players cut by coach Bob Knight. Tisdale finished as the team's leading rebounder (6.4).

Tisdale averaged 15.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and shot 50.5 percent from the field in a 12-year NBA career with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns. In 1997, he became the first player in any sport to have his jersey number (23) retired at OU and the annual national award for outstanding collegiate freshman is named the Wayman Tisdale Award.

In March 2007, Tisdale underwent treatment for cancer in his knee, which was discovered after he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg at his home in Los Angles one month earlier.

Tisdale later would admit making the Olympic team helped prepare him for battling cancer. "I had some coaches that literally didn't want me to make it, and one in particular was Bobby Knight," Tisdale once said. "At the time I frowned on that... I look at it today that had I not persevered through a lot of the stuff he put me through, I probably wouldn't be here today. I thank God for that dude because he pushed me."

"There was never another coach to do anything to affect Wayman because Bobby Knight was so tough."
— Regina Tisdale

Tisdale's wife, Regina, recalled that in a book "Bobby Knight put in a little blurb in there where he talked about all the guys on the (Olympic) team that year and he said, 'There was one person I could just not crack, and it was Wayman Tisdale.' Wayman said he wound up being the comedian of the team every night because everybody would get down. Bobby Knight's goal was to just knock everybody down. He would say, 'Wayman, you're not at Oklahoma. You're here with me now.' I remember Wayman calling one night saying, 'They're going to make cuts today and I hope I'm one of them.' I said, 'Are you crazy?' But at the end he was glad to have made the team."

A few month before Tisdale's death, Tisdale was in Las Vegas with Toby Keith for the Country Music Awards. Knight also was in town as a speaker and Tisdale joined him for a segment on a show. "On set with Bobby Knight, he said how much he appreciated Wayman," Regina recalled. "There was never another coach to do anything to affect Wayman because Bobby Knight was so tough."

Regina said Tisdale's Olympics experience was when Tisdale started thinking about life in the NBA.

In August 2008, Tisdale had the lower portion of his right leg amputated and was fitted for a prosthesis. Tisdale later established the Wayman Tisdale Foundation, which raised funds to help amputees with the prosthetic process when not covered by health insurance.

On the morning of May 15, 2009, Tisdale died at St. John Medical Center in Tulsa and six days later more than 4,000 mourners attended his memorial service at the BOK Center.

Six months after his death, Tisdale was elected into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in the same class as Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird. He also was an accomplished smooth jazz bassist. He played bass guitar at this father's church and long considered music to be his first love, which is why he chose to retire from basketball in 1997.