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Last Saturday, sophomore Dan Blakinger, the much heralded 118-pound Crimson wrestler, lost to Tom Schuler, the grappler for powerhouse Navy who happens to have won the Eastern championship and who happens to have placed second in the Nationals last year.
Blakinger, who has a varsity record of 7-2, has lost only two bouts in the last three years. Mononucleosis, that common Harvard disease, was the reason for his other loss of the season.
Coach Johnny Lee, whom Blakinger finds very personable, said of him. "A very good competitor. A coach's dream. I don't have to push him, he has incentive."
Blakinger, a graduate of Manheim Township High School in Nettsville, Pennsylvania, said. "I do not know much about genetics or psychology, but my father is a competitive person. I either inherited it, or grew up in a competitive atmosphere."
Equality attracted the small (5 ft. 3 in.) Blakinger to wrestling. "One of the very few sports where a small person can compete in as easily as everybody else is wrestling--because of the weight class. Everything's equalized;" he said.
Positive psyche forms the key to Blakinger's performance on the mat. "It is not psyching yourself to "I hate this guy, I hate this guy. It's psyching yourself to readiness and quick reaction," he said.
"Doing something well rather than hating the guy is the object. If I ever get angry while wrestling, it is always at myself for making a stupid move that gave the other guy a point," Blakinger said.
His strategy on the mat is "Basically to be aggressive and make the first move rather than let the other guy shoot at me. I know I'm in good shape, and I figure that if I'm ahead by 10 points, I don't gamble an aggressive shoot that could result in losing some points," Blakinger said.
Pressure of a different kind is involved in a sport like wrestling where, although there is a team, there is no one to back you up in an individual bout.
However, Blakinger prefers the individualistic nature of the sport. "True there is nobody to help take the blame with you, yet when you win, the match is all yours. Take the loss and the blame. That's the way it goes," he said.
Pressure also goads the player into a better performance. "When you make a bad move, the coach, the whole team sees it. There isn't another guy who can cover up for you," Blakinger said.
Despite his good record, professional wrestling holds no attraction for Blakinger. "Professional and college wrestling are really quite different. Professional wrestling is just an acrobatic act. Professionals are just good tumblers. They don't go out and use their strength the way we do. It is obvious to anyone who has wrestled that professional wrestling is a fraud," Blakinger said.
Aside from being an arena for exercise and competition, wrestling has been a learning process for Blakinger. "I've learned to control my temper and to react to failure," Blakinger said.
"Discipline is difficult. It is not easy to deny the natural impulse of eating food. Wrestling requires weight control, and losing weight requires self denial," he said.
Undefeated during his senior year at high school. Blakinger's biggest achievement was winning the Pennsylvania inter-scholastic wrestling championship. Ironically, at Penn this season, he lost to Eric Waters who stood third in the same championship in the same year as Blakinger.
At college, Blakinger likes to play tennis and the flute when there is time. But he complains, "Between studying and wrestling there isn't much time left."
Particularly if it's reading period. No more wrestling for the team until next month. Only studying.
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