Maple Grove resident named to National Wrestling Hall of Fame
Wrestling is more than just a sport. For one Maple Grove resident, wrestling is also about meeting young athletes and making new friends.
Al Olsen of Maple Grove has spent much of his life loving his hobby … wrestling.
He will be honored at the Minnesota Wrestling 2014 Hall of Fame Day Celebration Banquet set for Saturday, May 3, in Austin, Minn. National Wrestling Hall of Fame-Minnesota Chapter President Spencre Yohe said, “We will be honoring Al Olsen as our ‘Outstanding American’ from the State of Minnesota. Many call Al one of the nicest people involved in our sport. This successful and congenial individual is the epitome of the combined qualities needed to be selected for the category of ‘Outstanding American’ for the Minnesota Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.”
The “Outstanding American” nomination has three criteria — have to have been successful in business, have supported wrestling and wrestled at some point themselves.
HALL OF FAME
This honor is part of the State Chapter of Minnesota of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Olsen’s name will eventually be placed on a plaque at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla., with this honor.
“This is the biggest honor I’ve ever had individually in my life,” Olsen said.
Olsen plans to have family and friends attend. “So far I have about 30 to 25 people attending,” he said. “It should be a fun day.”
Verne Gagne, a well-known wrestler from Minnesota with a 16-time world heavyweight champion, was inducted into the first state chapter banquet. Gagne and Olsen were friends that attended wrestling matches and sat together as spectators.
Yohe and Scot Davis are in charge of the banquet, Olsen said. “They do a huge amount of work in preparation for the banquet,” Olsen said. He added they have all become good friends over the years and he always volunteers to be available.
“Wrestlers are a unique breed,” Olsen said. “They come out of that sport so disciplined and used to hard work.”
Olsen wrestled at Wayzata High School from 1960 to 1964, where he was a varsity wrestler under Dr. Bill Manning. Dr. Manning was the 2007 Minnesota Outstanding American recipient. Olsen also attended the University of Minnesota, where he wrestled for one year.
He started a manufacturing business, Permac Industries, Inc. in Crystal, which he ran from 1966 to 1977. Olsen ran another manufacturing business, Wiltec Industries in Anoka from 1979 until his retirement in 2004. He also ran a fly-in fishing lodge business in the Canadian Arctic, which he and wife Lynette and children, Pam and Glen, worked at in the summers.
During all this time, Olsen was a front-runner in supporting USA wrestling, Minnesota wrestling, the Minnesota Wrestling Club, the University of Minnesota Wrestling Team and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
He has been involved in aspects from running errands for team members, videotaping matches, to being an assistant leader to official team leader at different championship events.
Olsen has attended all Olympic events since Atlanta in 1996 (Australia in 2000, Greece in 2004 and China in 2008), only missing the London games in 2012. He also has traveled with the U.S. wrestling teams during the World Championships (2003 in New York, 2004 in Hungry and 2005 in Azerbajan), Pan-American Championships (2002 in Venezuela, 2003 in the Dominican Republic and 2007 in El Salvador), NCAA Championships, Big Ten, Minnesota State High School League championships and USA Team Trials for close to a half-century, according to Yohe.
In 2000, Olsen was chosen as the Assistant Team Leader for the U.S. wrestling team for the Dan Kolov Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria. “One of the wrestlers said, ‘I forgot my inhaler,’ and he had asthma,” Olsen said. “I told him I would run back and get it in 20 minutes. I had no idea where the sports complex we were staying at was. I got a cab driver that didn’t know English, so I was directing him around to familiar sites. Somehow, we got there and I got in his room and got his inhaler and back before the match.”
His wife has also gone on many of these trips with him.
“The highlight of my traveling with the teams was in 2011,” Olsen said. “I was elected team leader.”
He served as the Official Team Leader for the USA Greco Roman, Freestyle and Women’s teams for the FILA Junior World Championships in Bucaarest, Romania in 2011.
“My friend from the University of Minnesota nominated me,” he said. “I was in charge of coordinating details, like making sure the team had a place to practice and warm up and get ready.
Back during the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Olsen met wrestler Rulon Gardner. “He was in the spotlight for beating Russian Aleksandr Karelin, the unbeatable wrestler who was going for this fourth and final Olympic gold,” Olsen said. “I was sitting with his family during that match, which was a fun experience.”
There is a National Competition in Las Vegas, Nev., every year. Olsen said a recent event he was walking around when he was called over by a group of Nebraska wrestlers including Matt Lindland and Gardner and ultimate fighter Randy Couture.
“These celebrities were chatting and I tried to go around them and Rulon said, ‘Al, come here, listen to what this guy does. He flies up in the arctic circle and goes camping and fishing,’ ” Olsen said. “I’ve always been a humble guy, but to have these celebrities stop what they are doing was unbelievable.”
Dan Gable is “the most famous amateur wrestler ever” according to Olsen. They both like to talk about fishing as well.
Overall, Olsen enjoys traveling with the teams. “It is fun to get to know coaches and wrestlers,” he said. “Some have become life-long friends. I’ve had so many great experiences traveling.”
Olsen has been on a member of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame since its inception in 2003. He has served as the Vice President of Finances and Development has well.
Yohe added, “The Minnesota Chapter of The National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the sport of wrestling is proud to claim Al Olsen as one of their own.”
Distinguished member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Alan Rice concluded, “We are fortunate and very lucky to have Al Olsen as an Outstanding Person and supporter of the world’s oldest and greatest sport of them all: wrestling.”
Olsen will be presented with a plaque at the banquet in May along with a frameable picture and a jacket. He is also hoping to go to Cuba with the National Wrestling team next February.