MOSCOW — The first victim was a ninth-grader who went down in 27 seconds. Then there was another. And another. And another. Thickly muscled strangers in small towns in Michigan. Then Des Moines and Toledo. Then Las Vegas and New York and Paris and Budapest and Minsk. Always another. Another and another. He cannot remember them all. He cannot remember half of them. He remembers the one who broke his ankle and the one who split his eye open and he remembers the one in Joliet, Ill., who rolled onto him and broke both his wrists.
“Didn’t you quit then?” someone asked.
“Quit?” he said. “Of course not. They taped my wrists and I won the match.”
Andre Metzger is an amateur wrestler. He has wrestled more matches than any American ever. He began in Cedar Springs High School near Grand Rapids, and he wrestled in the summers and continued through college and wrestled in the summers, and wrestled when he graduated and wrestled in the summers and the springs and the falls and the winters, too. And now he is here in the Goodwill Games, in the 68-kilo class (149.5 pounds), and he has wrestled three men and has advanced to the gold medal round and there is another wrestler tonight. There always is. Another and another.
Andre Metzger has wrestled more than 1,700 opponents.
Wait a minute. More than 1,700? Well. That’s what the book says. And that’s not counting those he has faced more than once. He grabs them all by the neck or the waist or the legs and takes them to the mat, rolls on top, mixes his sweat with their sweat, his muscle with their muscle. He has won the
vast majority of his matches, he says.
“Do you remember their faces?” he was asked.
“I never look at faces,” he said. “I look at midsections.” It’s a rough sport
Wait a minute. More than 1,700 opponents? Well, that’s what the book says. How many pins is that? How many half-nelsons?
“Have you had many injuries?” someone asked.
“Injuries? ” he said, “Let’s see. . . . ”
There was the World Cup match against the Cuban where he tore all the muscles in his neck. There was the match in Iowa City where his opponent swung an elbow and split his eye open. There was the Olympic Trials in 1980 where his opponent rolled back on him and caught his foot in the wrong position.
“I got two points,” he said, “but he broke my ankle.”
“Well, what about you? Have you inflicted a lot of damage?” someone asked.
“Inflicted?” he said. “Let’s see. . . . “
There were the two necks he broke. The one guy in Iowa City never wrestled again. There was the one wrestler’s ankle which he “tore off.” There were cracked arms and dislocated shoulders, a few sprained backs, a few smashed noses. All accidental. All serious.
“It’s a rough sport,” someone said.
“That it is,” he said back.
But wait a minute. More than 1,700? That’s what the book says. Have you kissed that many people in your life? Have you danced with that many? More than 1,700? Wrestled?
This is not bowling. This is not baseball. You don’t grab a pitcher from his armpits and throw him to the ground and roll your person on top of his. You do not smell his breath and feel his heartbeat. You do not break his ankles.
More than 1,700?
“It’s not that big a deal,” he said. “I didn’t start until the ninth grade. A lot of kids today are wrestling at five years old.” A matter of pride
Metzger does not make much money. Not at wrestling. He competes in freestyle and Greco-Roman at tournaments around the world. This is real wrestling, not the kind with masks and capes and “Texas Death Matches.” The most Metzger has ever gotten for one tournament is the $2,000 the Goodwill Games is giving each U.S. athlete here.
But there are other things. Pride, for example. Metzger is 26 and missed making the Olympic teams in 1980 (broken ankle) and 1984 (severe food poisoning) — even though he was once ranked third in the world. He has beaten six Olympic gold medalists in various competitions. His biggest rival is the man he faces tonight for the gold medal — Arsen Fadzaev of the USSR.
“He’s the best in the world,” Metzger says. “He’s beaten me three times. This will be tough. Real tough.”
After tonight there will be another opponent. Another and another. He will go until 1988, one more Olympic try, running his summer clinics in Detroit and coaching at Indiana University and wrestling everywhere he can.
But wait a minute. More than 1700? That’s what the book says. But books have been wrong.
“Come on,” he was asked. “Is it the truth?”
“Actually, it’s closer to 1,800,” he said.