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A Season on the Mat: Dan Gable and the Pursuit of Perfection Hardcover – March 12, 1998
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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Had Dan Gable played baseball or basketball instead of wrestled, not only would ad campaigns have been built around him, but also a wing in the hall of fame. Gable, a true athletic icon, dominated his sport--a virtually obscure one by American standards--as no one has before or since. An Olympic champion, Gable was virtually unbeatable. As a coach, he's been dauntingly invincible. His Iowa Hawkeyes have won 10 straight national championships--15 altogether--and every Big 10 title in the sport since Gable took over the program in the mid-1970s. A Season on the Mat is the engrossing narrative of Iowa's 1996-97 Cinderella season, Gable's finale as coach, and the intriguing hold wrestling has on its participants. Still, Gable is the clear star here. With drama and pathos, author Nolan Zavoral profiles him as a fiercely driven and competitive man, wracked by physical and emotional pain as he grapples with the life-altering decisions that he knows it's time to make.
About the Author
Nolan Zavoral has been a reporter and editor for twenty-five years at newspapers ranging from the lowa City Press-Citizen to USA Today. He is currently a reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune; his stories have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, and The Washington Post. The author of In the Chutes, he lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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Nevertheless, the key character within the book is wrestling icon Dan Gable. Zavoral does an excellent job of providing an objective portrayal of Gable that should satisfy both the amateur wrestling aficionado and the uninitiated. I enjoyed reading about the life of Dan Gable; his relationship with his parents, his wife, his children, the state of Iowa, the University of Iowa administration, his assistant coaches, and his wrestlers; and the two key life moments that motivated him to worker harder than anyone else to reach the pinnacle as a wrestler and coach. Moreover, whereas most Gable biographies are written by sycophants who communicate only Gable's venerable qualities, Zavoral is equitable in also discussing Gable's eccentricities.
Most reviewers have written favorably (and I would say accurately) regarding A Season on the Mat. Yet, a minority of reviewers have stated that the book lacks "justice," is "cheerless," and is "shallow." To this specious minority I say, "We must not have been reading the same book." The book provides justice in its balanced and detailed depiction of Dan Gable. Furthermore, I found myself almost cheering out loud when Gable's athletes overcame adversity via sweat and hard work to finally reach the podium at the culmination of a long and arduous season.
Yes, the book is a little "shallow" when detailing the histories and experiences of the team's varsity starters or when describing the rigors of weight cutting or a Dan Gable practice. However, the book is not intended to be a 900 page tome that provides each character the same importance and coverage as the title character, Dan Gable. Nor is the book intended to be an encyclopedia of everything one needs to do to succeed at wrestling. Rather, the book is intended as a chronicle of the trials, tribulations, travails and outcomes relative to Gable's last season as Head Coach of the University of Iowa wrestling program. Therein, the book is highly successful as a quick, entertaining, page turner that tells a meritorious story of personal and athletic achievement.
By Gable's own words, the loss caused him to go on dominate AAU and Olympics in a way that has only been duplicated by Cael Sanderson (now, head coach of Pennsylvania). Wrestling is the ultimate combat sport and Dan Gable is its god. Buy and Read