Catching up with an Olympic champion

Former metro Detroit resident Steve Fraser reflects on 1984 Gold medal

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published January 21, 2019

 Former metro Detroit resident and Hazel Park High graduate Steve Fraser is pictured during a wrestling match at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Fraser recently reflected on what it was like to be a gold medalist.

Former metro Detroit resident and Hazel Park High graduate Steve Fraser is pictured during a wrestling match at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Fraser recently reflected on what it was like to be a gold medalist.

Photo provided by Steve Fraser

 After winning a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics,  Hazel Park High graduate Steve Fraser went on to be the national Greco-Roman coach for USA Wrestling.

After winning a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics, Hazel Park High graduate Steve Fraser went on to be the national Greco-Roman coach for USA Wrestling.

Photo provided by Steve Fraser

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For those who lived in the metro Detroit area in 1984, it might have been hard to not hear, read or see something about Steve Fraser. 

Fraser was the first U.S. wrestler to ever win an Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, which is a feat he accomplished at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

The former Ferndale resident and 1976 Hazel Park High graduate recently reflected on what life was like after winning a gold medal.

“The Olympics were in L.A., of course, so they were widely viewed by Americans,” Fraser said. “So for months, probably six months after (the) Olympics, I actually felt like a celebrity. I’d walk down the street and people would recognize me. So it was really cool, and that was very unusual for me and for wrestlers in general, because wrestling isn’t on TV every day like (the) NBA and NFL, and so forth. … But for about six months, it was really cool. It was like I was actually famous.”

Before going to Hazel Park High, Fraser attended Webb Junior High, which was part of the same school district.

Aside from being the wrestling coach at Webb, Frank Stagg was also a gym teacher at the school.

He recognized Fraser’s potential to be a good wrestler, and he tried to persuade the eighth-grader to come out for the team.

After that didn’t work, Stagg recalled that he waited for Fraser after his last hour of class one day, brought him to the area where the team wrestled and got him to stay.

Fraser listed Stagg, Robert Morrill and Masaaki Hatta, who also coached him, as influencers in his life.

Stagg shared his insight as to some of the characteristics that helped make Fraser so successful.

“He was very determined to get everything as correct as possible,” Stagg said. “And his determination to not lose, to always win, was a characteristic that stayed with me, and with him, obviously. … It was amazing to me that he could carry on to the Olympics.”

After Fraser did try wrestling, he said he loved it immediately. He recalled telling Stagg that he “just loved to sweat.”

That aspect of his personality can be credited with helping him go on to achieve at such a high level.

“I tried to learn, and I was successful at this — I learned how to make the hard work fun,” Fraser said. “There was nothing more fun for me than to leave the wrestling practice room after a two-hour practice, just completely drenched in sweat and drained of every ounce of energy that (you) have. … And that takes practice to learn how to rationalize that as fun. I knew it was making me better.”

After winning a state championship his senior season at Hazel Park, Fraser went on to wrestle for the University of Michigan, where he was a two-time NCAA All-American.

Following the 1984 Olympics, Fraser worked for Domino’s Pizza in Ann Arbor, helping to direct multiple stores for the franchise.

After about 10 years of doing that, he was offered the opportunity to be the national Greco-Roman coach for USA Wrestling in 1995.

Fraser said he did that for almost 19 years, and during that span some of his coaching highlights included helping lead the U.S. to eight medals at various Olympic Games, as well as a world team title at the 2007 World Championships.

He was also Rulon Gardner’s coach when he beat three-time Olympic champion Alexander Karelin, of Russia, at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Prior to that, Karelin had not lost in international competition.

Fraser said it was a pretty natural transition to go into coaching.

“As a coach, you have to learn how to motivate groups of people, many people,” Fraser said. “And so it’s (a) different challenge, but it was very rewarding. I would say Rulon beating Alexander Karelin was one of my biggest thrills in my career, including my own accomplishments as a wrestler. And I had many more than just Rulon, so it’s been very rewarding.”

Before Fraser attended that very first wrestling practice, little did he know the kind of impact the sport would have on his life.

“I’m biased, but wrestling is one of the greatest sports that there is for building character in young people,” Fraser said. “The determination that you learn, the dedication, the hard work, the sacrifice, learning how to deal with failure and adversity, and overcoming it, all of that stuff wrestling teaches you. It’s a grueling, tough sport. And thus it hardens and strengthens the participants that take part, and those people normally learn how to apply that to everything that they do in their life. Wrestling helped me in all aspects of my life.”

Some of Fraser’s other accomplishments include winning a gold medal at the 1983 Pan-American Games and being part of the 1979 and 1982 U.S. World Teams.

He has been inducted into the Michigan Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Michigan Amateur Sports Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Although Fraser’s role with USA Wrestling took him to Colorado, where he is currently the Chief of donor and alumni relations, he has fond recollections of time spent in the metro Detroit area.

“I loved Hazel Park and the area,” Fraser said. “I enjoyed my childhood, growing up in that area. … I had a lot (of) great influencers.”

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