With a separated and displaced rib, enlarged spleen and damaged knee, Wayne Wells fought through the pain to win a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics. It would be the final match for the Oklahoma wrestling legend, culminating an incredible collegiate and international career. At Oklahoma, Wells went 69-4, winning an NCAA title in 1968. In Olympic competition, Wells had a fourth-place finish in 1968 before that gold in 1972. Speaking after a leadership luncheon at the Jim Thorpe Museum on Thursday, Wells reflected on his highly successful career.
When I first went to school, everybody had to take gym class. And I moved up to Oklahoma from Texas, never seen a wrestling match in my life. During gym class, they encouraged us to go up and roll around the wrestling mats. Up to that time, I thought I always wanted to be a baseball player and a football player, but it didn't take long before curveballs and stopwatches caught up to me. Couldn't run and couldn't hit the curveball.
Just great times (at Oklahoma), great times. I'll always remember my teammates, all the guys that make you good. Because you can't get better without those guys behind you always pushing you. We just had some of the greatest competitors there. I mean, we had defending NCAA champions who couldn't make the starting team some weeks. So that was probably the thing that I remember most, is the outstanding competition. We used to leave that wrestling room in blood every day. We fought with broken fingers and noses and cuts everywhere.
One of the reasons I was able to make an Olympic team was the University of Oklahoma. I hurt my knee in 1968, my senior year, and had to have it operated on and couldn't go to the Olympic trials. They take the top two finishers in the Olympic tournament and do the final wrestle-offs. The only exception to that is they will give a few injury invitations. I got an injury exception to the Olympic camp in 1968, so I was the third man in my weight. And I could beat those guys one-on-one, but I'm not sure I could have made the team (without the exception). And if I didn't make the Olympics in 1968, I'm not so sure I would have kept wrestling. Because once I got to the Olympics, I kind of realized that, ‘Hey, I can hang with the big dogs.' I finished fourth in Mexico City in '68 and realized that it wasn't that far away. That's kind of how I got into the Olympics, because of injury.