By Robert Bao
Olympian -- DON BEHM (Summer 2008)
Member, U.S. men’s wrestling team
Silver Medal, Summer Games, Mexico City, 1968
Don Behm, ’68, M.A. ’80, one of two wrestlers in the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, came to MSU from Winnetka, IL, “by mistake.”
“I had committed to Oklahoma State,” recalls Behm, silver medalist at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City and 2004 inductee in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. “But then I received a letter from the OSU registrar rejecting me.”
OSU’s coach was out of the country and could not be reached. So Behm committed to Grady Peninger, MSU’s Hall of Fame wrestling coach.
“The rest is history,” says Behm, who went on to forge a brilliant career at MSU—winning two Big Ten championships, three Midlands championships, and the NCAA team championship in 1967, the Big Ten’s first NCAA championship in wrestling. He made All-American twice.
“MSU was a good fit for me,” says Behm, who has taught in East Lansing public schools the past four decades. “I loved it enough that I stayed.”
Behm, who beat world champion Ali Aliew of the Soviet Union, was not given the opportunity to wrestle Japan for the gold medal—the result of a flawed (promptly discarded) scoring system.
After the Olympics, Behm continued to wrestle and coach—winning five national championships in AAU and USWF competition (1969-73), and winning a plethora of titles, including gold medals at the famed 1970 Tiblisi (Russia) tournament in 1970, at the 1971 Pan American Games and at the 1993 Veterans World. He was an unofficial assistant wrestling coach for the U.S. in 1972, and the unofficial coach of Ecuador’s lone wrestler in 1976 (a common practice).
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Behm poses in MSU’s wrestling room at the I.M. West Building.