Patrick Reusse: In 1992, comeback yielded second medal for Koslowski

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2012 - 12:46 AM

Dennis Koslowski gave wrestling one more shot in 1992, and the result was a silver to go along with his bronze from 1988.

South Dakota native Dennis Koslowski beat Estonia’s Helger Hallik 1-0 in the Greco-Roman 220-pound semifinals at the Barcelona Olympics.

There is little pomp to start a Greco-Roman wrestling match, even when the prize involved will be an Olympic gold medal.

On July 28, 1992, Dennis Koslowski became the first United States wrestler to reach such a match in a non-boycotted Olympics. His opponent in the 220-pound bout would be Hector Milian, a 25-year-old Cuban with a monstrous reputation.

One night earlier, Koslowski, 32, had won his fourth shutout in a row. As he prepared to leave the arena, it was not yet official that Milian would be his opponent for the gold.

"The chances of Milian getting beat are slim and none, and slim has left town," Koslowski said. "Don't worry. The Cuban is the guy I'll be wrestling."

Koslowski said another competitor had advised him to not think too much about the match and get a good night's rest. "So, I went home and put a gut wrench on my pillow at 3 in the morning, and I argued with the officials," he said. "I had to get up and fix the bed. It was a shambles."

It was 17 hours after that bout with his pillow when Koslowski and Milian came through the tunnel from the warmup room to the main arena. Within seconds, the match was underway.

Sylvie Koslowski put daughter Angela, 6, on her lap and squeezed her around the waist. "Oh, geez ... oh, geez," they said simultaneously.

One minute into the match, the referee put Koslowski into the down position and Milian turned him for a point. A minute later, the referee put down Koslowski again, causing a screaming protest from U.S. coach Mike Houck.

"Get up, Dad," Angela screamed. "Get up."

Koslowski survived this disadvantage. When the wrestlers were back on their feet, Koslowski attacked and threw Milian to the mat for a tying point.

The match went to overtime. Milian finally pushed over Koslowski for a point and a 2-1 sudden-death victory.

Angela started sobbing, as her mother attempted to console her. "A silver medal is wonderful," someone said.

Angela said: "That's right. If Dad got two bronzes, that wouldn't be fun at all."

Dennis had won the bronze in Seoul in 1988. He retired, then was overcome by Olympic spirit when the Olympic Festival was in the Twin Cities in 1990 and decided to give it another try and made it to Barcelona.

Two decades later, Koslowski has a long-running chiropractor business located across the Third Avenue Bridge from downtown Minneapolis. He is going into his sixth season as the chiropractor for the Vikings, and he also works with the Twins and the Timberwolves.

Angela was married two years ago and is scheduled to deliver Dennis and Sylvie's first grandchild in December. Another daughter, Natalie, was 1 at the time of the silver medal in Barcelona. She's entering a senior year at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

Dennis Koslowski caused a bit of a stir in Barcelona beyond the silver medal. He was one of the U.S. athletes not impressed by the presence of the Dream Team.

"It's like filling a glass full of water," he said in Barcelona. "I believe the best should be in the Olympics, but it ticks me off the way it pulls away from someone like me, from the rest of us. Do Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson really need more endorsements?"

Considering Koslowski's journey from Doland, S.D., to a pair of Greco-Roman medals, it was easy to understand his view that the Dream Team had filled the glass and left only sips of attention for the amateurs who had made it to the Olympics the hard way.

Dennis and his twin, Duane (who also competed in Seoul as a super heavyweight), were two of five children born to Henry and Marcelline Koslowski in a period of four years. The youngest daughter was 1 when Marcelline died.

"My dad had problems, and the kids were split up with aunts and uncles for a few years," Dennis said. "Duane and I went to the same farm."

Dennis wrestled at 105 pounds as a high school freshman. He wrestled at 177 pounds in his first year at Minnesota-Morris. All it took was a look at a photo of Henry Koslowski to realize that the genes were there for Dennis and Duane to turn into large, powerful men.

"You always see those photos of GIs in World War II with those loose-fitting Army helmets, right?" Dennis said. "We had a photo of Henry, and they could barely find a helmet to squeeze on his head. He was a thick man."

It's only a few minutes of regulation, but Greco-Roman -- especially among big men -- is as grueling as it gets. Dennis Koslowski sculpted that natural thickness with endless hours of workouts and training, and he has silver and bronze medals to show for it.

"That Olympic fire always comes back to me when we get close to another Summer Olympics," Koslowski said. "The U.S. Olympic Committee has that saying that I truly embrace: 'Once an Olympian, always an Olympian. Never former. Never past.' "

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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