Jeff Blatnick, who overcame Hodgkin’s disease to win a gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, has died. He was 55.
Blatnick, who was on the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted the Moscow Games, and teammate Steve Fraser became the first Americans to win Olympic golds in Greco-Roman wrestling at the Los Angeles Games.
“I am stunned by it,” Fraser said in a statement on TheMat.com. “I talked to him just a few weeks ago about his work with our state association in New York and how we can promote Greco-Roman wrestling. I am heartbroken. He has done so much for the sport as an athlete, an announcer, a leader and a spokesman. My prayers go out to his family.”
Blatnick, a native of Niskayuna, New York, noticed small lumps on his neck in May 1982. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer, in July and began radiation treatments after having his spleen and appendix removed in October, according to “The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics,” by David Wallechinsky.
Inspired by the memory of his brother, David, who died in a 1977 motorcycle accident, Blatnick went on to beat Sweden’s Tomas Johansson in the final before falling to his knees and crying.
“I’m a happy dude,” Blatnick said through tears in an interview at the side of the mat.
Joe DeMeo, who coached Blatnick with the ATWA Wrestling Club in Albany, said in a statement that the death “is a great tragedy for wrestling in general, and for New York wrestling. He was our New York state chairman, and has been doing a phenomenal job. I am saddened for his wife and two children. I am feeling the greatest sadness.”
Blatnick, who wrestled at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts, was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999. He was a three-time national champion in Greco-Roman, served on USA Wrestling’s board and worked as a broadcaster for NBC and ESPN.
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