WWE Olympians: Ken Patera Represents American Weightlifting at 1972 Olympics

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WWE Olympians: Ken Patera Represents American Weightlifting at 1972 Olympics
Photo from WWE.com

When one refers to a wrestler as "the world's strongest man," it is generally a moniker associated with Mark Henry. However, to an older generation of wrestling fans, someone else comes to mind who, like Henry, was an Olympic powerlifter as well. And yet, Ken Patera only refers to himself now as just an "old man with a nice dog" (source WWE.com).

As the global sports stage goes, the Munich Olympics of 1972 holds incredible distinction in the lexicon of great 20th century cultural events. After all, it holds the two contrasting images of triumph and tragedy; Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals and the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

In the midst of these clashing images and circumstances, Patera represented the United States in the weightlifting competition, coming off a gold medal at the Pan American games in 1971. Unfortunately an injury during the games and subsequent disqualification after failing in three attempts in the Snatch kept Patera from medaling in 1972.

With not much of a future financially to be gained from weightlifting in the professional ranks, Patera transitioned to wrestling, training under legend Verne Gagne.

Throughout the 1970s, Patera worked AWA, NWA and WWE primarily as a heel, focusing much of his draw and appeal on his prestige as a strongman. (Patera competed in the World's Strongest Man competition, placing third in 1977). His success as a heel in wrestling also culminated in 1977 when he was named "Most Hated Wrestler" by PWI.

Patera's battles with world champions Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund were among some of the biggest draws for WWE during the 1970s, and by the early '80s Patera had reached the unique milestone of simultaneously holding the WWE Intercontinental Championship as well as the NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship.

Ken Patera Vs. Bruno Sammartino, 1977

Patera's career was suddenly interrupted in 1984 when he was arrested for attacking police officers in conjunction with an accusation that he broke the front window of a McDonald's in Waukesha, Wisconsin (supposedly with a 30 pound boulder). The resulting legal battle found Patera guilty and sentenced to two years in prison over the incident. He was released after a year and half for good behavior.

Although he returned to WWE as a babyface in 1987, a ruptured bicep curtailed any push Patera was set to have, and by 1988 he was out of the company. He returned to the AWA soon after and was featured in events for various small promotions throughout the 1990s before his retirement.

What a road for a man considered in many circles to be the last significant American weightlifter on the international scene. Not to mention one of the classic heels of his era in professional wrestling. Not bad at all for just an old man with a nice dog.

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