ELECTED MEMBERS
   
Last NameSportCountryYear Inducted
HENRY WITTENBERG

Sport: Wrestling
Inducted: 1979
Country: United States
Born: September 18, 1918 in Jersey City, New Jersey
Died: March 9, 2010

In London-1948, at the first Olympic Games following World War II, Henry Wittenberg won the Olympic Freestyle Light-Heavyweight (191.5 lbs./??kg) gold medal. At the 1952 Helsinki Games, the captain of the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team took a silver medal in the same event.

One of the world’s all-time great wrestlers, amateur or professional, Henry Wittenberg won more than 300 consecutive matches* between 1939 and 1951. His undefeated record is even more remarkable considering he did not participate in high school sports, and only took up wrestling in 1938 as a college sophomore. (*Results of numerous minor events and preliminary rounds were not always recorded during the first half-century. Wittenberg has estimated his undefeated streak at “between 400 and 500 in a row”.)

In 1940, shortly after graduation from City College of New York (CCNY)––where he finished third in the 165-lb class at the Amateur Athletic Union nationals in 1938 and second at 175 pounds in 1940––Wittenberg, representing the New York West YMCA, won his first U.S. national AAU 191 lb.-class championship. Through 1952, he would win seven more AAU 191-lb. titles: 1941, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1952.

Following U.S. Army service, where he was a World War II hand-to-hand combat instructor, Wittenberg joined the New York City Police Department. Nonetheless, wrestling was a post-war hot item in New York and he managed to continue his undefeated streak representing the “Y”.

Absent a formal invitation, the New York cop decided to try out for the U.S. Olympic team. He won the U.S. light-heavyweight Olympic qualifier by defeating University of Minnesota champion Verne Gagne (who would later become a “superstar”of American professional wrestling). At the London Olympics, Wittenberg was undefeated in five straight matches en route to his gold medal.

After the Olympics, Wittenberg retired from wrestling. His departure lasted until 1951, when his wife, Edith, thought it would be a great idea for him to make a run at qualifying for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Taking the Mrs. Advice and inspiration, he earned a spot on the U.S. team, but it came at the expense of his extraordinary undefeated streak. An injured Wittenberg lost his first match in 13 years at the 1951 national AAU finals, a defeat he would later reverse at the Olympic trials.

He lost only one other match during his distinguished career, to 1952 Olympic gold medalist Wiking Palm. Nonetheless, Wittenberg scored a personal highlight victory on the road to his silver medal by defeating the reigning world champion, Russia’s August Englas.* That victory marked the first time an American had defeated a Russian in international competition. The Helsinki silver medal Wittenberg earned made him only the second American to win two Olympic wrestling medals. (Bantamweight Geroge Mehnert medaled in 1904 and 1908). *Wittenberg’s police employment prevented him from competing at the periodic World Championships.

Wittenberg actually took a short hiatus from retirement in 1950 to win a gold medal at the World Maccabiah Games, the first post-war Maccabiah and first-ever in the new State of Israel. He repeated his Maccabiah winning ways in 1953, both times capturing victories in the Freestyle Heavyweight class. He retired for good following the ’53 Maccabiah.

After more than a dozen years, Wittenberg left the NYC police force to enter the printing business, but kept his hands in wrestling. In 1959, he coached the first U.S. national team to compete in the Soviet Union. From 1959 to 1967, the ex-cop was wrestling coach at New York’s Yeshiva University; after which, 1967 thru 1979, he returned to his alma mater, CCNY, as professor of physical education and wrestling coach. For the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, he was head coach of the United States Greco-Roman team.

The Wittenbergs attended the 1972 Olympics in Munich and their accommodations in the Olympic village were adjacent to the rooms of the ill-fated Israeli wrestling team.

Henry Wittenberg was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1977.

 
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