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We stood looking at each other: occasionally Jim Abbott would grunt, I would snarl. Then with lightning speed. I grabbed him and threw him to the ground. I was about to pin him. but decided to let the match continue. After all, I was only a CRIMSON sports-type: I had to think about the morale of the wrestling team.
Five minutes later, the match was over. and Jim Abbott had won, 23-2. Dante's hell couldn't have been too different from the Harvard wrestling room that Wednesday afternoon.
I saw several Jim Abbots circling the room: I couldn't do anything but turn my head and look at the ceiling. Sweat collected on the mat below me. and I could not remember ever feeling so oppressively warm.
Jim helped me to my feet, and we walked out to the showers. I had been soaking under the shower for about fifteen minutes before I asked Abbott why he went back to wrestle day after day.
"You never ask yourself why you go back. I guess it's because you like some of the guys on the team. and you like the coach. It's a pattern that is built up early in life and it's difficult to break. But most important, you get a good feeling when you win, and you want to repeat it." Abbott said.
Jim's wrestling pattern started early in life. He took up wrestling in eight grade, winning more matches on sheer power than on anything else. After two years of wrestling, he broke into the varsity line-up his sophomore year. "But man. I was scared when I wrestled. I was the only sophomore on the "team," Jim said.
After overcoming his fear and losing ten pounds, he came back to wrestle at 167 in his junior year. winning 10 out of 12 matches. In his last year. Abbott improved on his junior record going undefeated in all his dual meets. "Then I lost in the state tournament. I could never get up for two matches in a day." he said.
In his first year at Harvard, Jim continued his heavy winning streak, losing only once all year. "Then the Easterns. and I blow another tournament. I ended up in a bar drinking beers with the coach." he said.
A knee injury incurred while he was wrestling Cornell his sophomore year put him out of commission for the rest of the season, and prevented him from wrestling his junior year.
He came back to wrestle this year in the unlimited class-behemoths that frequently weigh in at 260 and are as tall as 6'6"-and has won five matches while losing only three and tying one. At 5' 11". 217 lbs. Jim has had trouble with bigger opponents, but he would rather be wrestling the big boys than having to make weight.
"If you have to meet weight the next day. you come home after practice and you can't eat or drink. So you go up to your room. lie on your bed. and think about the food and drink you're missing and about the upcoming match. Thank God. I'm not into that bag this year. I'd rather wrestle the big guys." Abbott said.
More to Life
Unlike many athletes and fans who believe that one should be totally committed to a sport, Jim feels that there is more to life than athletic dedication. "Athletics are great, but I can't see patting it on a high pedestal. You can be an athlete and a head, for instance: or you can be anything you want-like Joe Namath," he said.
"The Harvard philosophy of sports is so much better than in schools where sports are really emphasized. It's a nice combination-the opportunity is here to participate, but you can still play it your own way. It is no way to build a nationally ranked team. but then again what is more important, athletics or the students" he added.
Wrestlers who have to diet during wrestling usually gorge themselves during the off-season. Abbott is no exception. "I came back from summer vacation with a big beer gut. and coach Lee tried to get me on Gablinger's beer. a low-carbohydrate beer. hoping that I would lose weight. I did lose some weight but he still worries that I drink too much beer," Abbott said.
"But like wrestling, drinking beer is a part of good feelings and good times. So why should I give it up?" Abbott concluded.
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