Fond Olympic memories
Walloon Lake man was part of '48 U.S. Olympic team in London
Bob Maldegen, 84, stands outside his Walloon Lake home and displays the Report of the United States Olympic Committee from the 1948 Games in London. Maldegen is one of just two living members of the 1948 United States Freestyle Wrestling Team, which captured two gold medals, one silver and one bronze. (Steve Foley/News-Review / July 31, 2012)
Bob Maldegen plans to tune in to the action on his television, which Sunday for Greco-Roman and on Wednesday, Aug. 8, for freestyle.
Maldegen, 84, will know better than most what those athletes on sport's biggest stage are going through. He did so 64 years ago in the XIV Olympiad (1948 Olympics), which also took place in London.
"Sixty-four years," Maldegen said from his home on Walloon Lake. "It's been a lifetime."
That it has for Maldegen, who experiences a flood of emotions, memories and joy as he flips through the 388-page United States Olympic Committee report.
He was one of 16 members of the U.S. Freestyle Wrestling Team in 1948. Just Maldegen and one teammate, Bill Nelson, are still alive from that contingent.
"What's unique is that 16 guys went over there and there's only two of us alive right now," Maldegen said, fighting back tears. "We (Nelson and Maldegen) were the two youngest guys on that team, both 19. We came home with two golds, a silver and a bronze for eight weights."
Maldegen was a heavyweight (191 pounds) was an alternate to teammate Dick Hutton. Amazingly, Maldegen never stepped on a wrestling mat until he enrolled at Michigan State University (then college) in 1945 on a football scholarship.
"I went to (Detroit) Redford High School, which is not to be confused with Redford Union, which was five miles away," Maldegen said. "There was no (high school) wrestling program in Southeast Michigan that I knew of. There was some wrestling in the state, but it was pretty spotty."
When he arrived at Michigan State, Maldegen was required to enroll in a physical education class, and was looking for one that allowed him to be at the fieldhouse at 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for football practice.
"The only thing that was available that fit my schedule was wrestling," he said. "We had three or four football players in that class for the same reason."
The Spartan wrestling coach, Fendley Collins, spotted a raw talent in the rangy 6-foot-4 freshman from the west side of Detroit. Collins urged Maldegen to enter an intramural wrestling tournament, and he ended up winning the heavyweight division.
"He (Collins) said he'd like me to come out for wrestling and he thought I could beat his heavyweight," Maldegen said. "This was in 1944-45. Guys in 1944 were drafted at 18. I graduated (high school) at 17, so they (U.S. Army) weren't after me until the following year and after that, the war was over.
"I was very beneficial of the times."
Maldegen recalls his first varsity match -- Jan. 2, 1946 -- and his opponent was a 6-foot-8, 280-pounder from Wheaton (Ill.) College.
"Nobody knew a thing about him and I was 6-4, 210, but I beat him and that launched my wrestling career," Maldegen said.
Maldegen became a four-year starter and a two-time All-American. He finished second in 1948 and third in '49 at the NCAA tournament, and was the 1949 AAU champion.
His runner-up finish in the NCAA finals in '48 along with a first-place finish in a regional qualifier in Iowa landed Maldegen on the Olympic team.
Two wrestlers made the team in each of the eight weight classes. A series of three matches in each class determined the front-liner and the alternate, and the alternates job was to help prepare his teammate and be prepared to step in in case of injury or illness.