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Kansan won gold wrestling at '32 Olympics

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 26, 2009, at 1:06 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, Oct. 26, 2009, at 6:25 a.m.

They called him the Kansas Whirlwind.

Peter Mehringer was the gold medal winner in men’s freestyle wrestling at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

Not bad for an athlete who learned to wrestle from reading a book and taking a correspondence course.

Born July 15, 1910, Mehringer grew up on a farm near Kinsley.

In high school, he played some football but became passionately interested in wrestling after reading a pamphlet on the Frank Gotch and Farmer Burns School of Wrestling and Physical Culture.

He taught himself to wrestle.

It helped, he told a reporter years later, to have grown up with six brothers.

Kinsley did not have a wrestling team, but Mehringer competed in two Kansas state high school championships, winning both.

Mehringer then went on to the University of Kansas, where he was a major player in football and wrestling. In wrestling, he was a three-time Missouri Valley Conference heavyweight champion.

He earned All-American mat honors, though he lost to Olympic teammate Jack Riley in the 1932 National Intercollegiate Meet heavyweight title match.

When Mehringer qualified for the Olympic Games, he hitchhiked to and from Los Angeles and lost 17 pounds while on the journey, qualifying him for the 192-pound weight class.

He dominated the class at the competitions. After winning the gold medal, Mehringer returned to KU, where he became the college’s wrestling coach while still a student.

At KU, he also was a two-time All-Conference and All-American defensive tackle.

In 1934, Mehringer left the college without a degree. He was broke.

He played football with the St. Louis Browns for three years and with the Los Angeles Bulldogs for a year.

He also was briefly a professional wrestler and toured with carnivals as a bare knuckle fighter.

In the late 1930s, Mehringer became a Hollywood stuntman and actor, appearing in 40 movies. He was a teammate of Ronald Reagan in “Knute Rockne All-American.”

He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1983 and is also in the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Mehringer died Aug. 27, 1987.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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