Though The Only Way Is Suplex is a brand-new project, I’ve been lucky enough to interview various figures in the pro wrestling world in recent months. Here’s an interview I did back in June on the day that Kurt Angle confirmed he would be trying out for the USA 2012 Olympic wrestling squad.
“I already have my gold medal. Nobody can take that away from me,” says Kurt Angle. “But I want to do what I do best.” He’s just confirmed that the internet forum rumours are true – he’s making a comeback to Olympic wrestling, 15 years after he won his gold medal, and 12 years after moving into the sports entertainment world, with WWE and now Impact.
The USA team tryouts are next April, and when the Games start in the summer, Angle will be 43, making him the oldest-ever member of the wrestling squad – that is, of course, if he is selected. He’s optimistic about his chances, pointing out that the upper weight classes rely on durability and strength rather than quick reflexes, and is training with his nephew, working mostly on flexibility, plyometrics, strength and conditioning, before moving on to mat work over the summer.
“TNA gave me their blessing [to try out],” he confirms. “I don’t have to do much [in terms of Impact Wrestling commitments] – maybe two to four TVs a month and a pay-per-view. I’ll be home a good 23 to 25 days a month. I have a private facility where I’ll be training with my nephew. It’ll be very closed-doors, so nobody has film of me. I’ll be coming out of the closet at the US open, and everybody will be like, “What the hell’s he doing here? What’s this old man doing here?” But they won’t know how I trained or the techniques I used to get ready for these guys. At my age, that’s an advantage. I’ve seen them, I’ve studied them, but they won’t be able to study me.”
In his preparation for the 1996 Games, he overtrained, resulting in multiple mistakes on the mat. “I feel like I’d be a much better wrestler now – I may not score a bunch of points, I’ll have low-scoring matches, but I know I’m just as effective. I’ll be more selective about what I do.”
Even as a pro wrestler, Angle is a veteran, now helping the younger guys through the ranks and spotting new talent. “I like Brutus Magnus, Doug Williams, Desmond Wolfe [now with ROH] — they’re all from England and they all have the ability to be main-eventers if given a chance,” he says. “It’d be great to have some British wrestlers as our champions. They’re all great actors too, especially Magnus.”
But even though he remains an integral part of Impact’s plans and storylines, it can’t be disputed that Angle’s career in pro wrestling has been defined by that gold medal win in 1996. Even now, he’s billed as the only Olympic gold medallist in the industry; over the summer he was involved in a storyline where his gold medal is on the line should he lose. I almost hesitate to ask it, but does he ever feel angry that something he did so long ago has come to define his career?
He seems a little taken aback by the question, but after some consideration responds: “It really has [defined my career]. It’s defined who I am. When people think of me, they think of the gold medal. It’s amazing, you accomplish one thing in your life and that’s what people think only. I don’t really like that.”
Does he feel any pressure returning to Olympic competition?
He shakes his head. “The first time, I was stressed. I was stressed every day. I won the worlds in ‘95 then the Olympics in 96, and that hardly ever happens. I’d won everything I could in wrestling, so I retired, but I still hadn’t reached my peak. I could have gotten better, I had a lot more room to improve.
“I’d put so much pressure on myself I didn’t enjoy the moment, I just wanted it over with. It was a job. That’s all I thought about it as. I trained ten hours a day, did everything I had to do, but when I competed I was very tight. I didn’t loosen up and go after the guy the way I normally do. I was like, ‘I can’t make a mistake!’ It wasn’t fun. Besides the joy I had when I won, I had more of a sense of relief that it was over. For 20 years, I wrestled – all that time, and I didn’t enjoy it? It was a mission.”
He attributes some of the success of that mission to intensive fatigue training, which he’s also putting into practice now. “When you’re ready to throw up and can’t move, that’s when you start training. You can’t just give up, you have to learn how to get through that. That’s how I won the gold medal. Three of my five matches went into double overtime. Those were tight matches, but because I was in better shape than the other guys, I won the matches. I wasn’t a better wrestler, but I was in better condition. So that helped me, and it’s something I will have to use here.”
It may not sound like a lot of laughs to the outsider, but Angle is having the time of his life. “I want to savour it. I’m older and wiser, and I want to have fun doing it.”