For Danny Hodge, it was meeting athletes from other countries that really stood out from his Olympian experiences, politics being placed aside in favour of athletics.
Hodge competed in two Olympics. He was 19 and just out of high school in 1952 when he competed in Helsinki, Finland for the U.S. at 174 pounds in freestyle wrestling. He didn’t place.
It was quite a trip for a young man from Oklahoma, who was in the naval reserves and there was a war going on in Korea.
“I had to join the naval reserves before I was 18, my senior year,” Hodge recalled for SLAM! Wrestling. “I joined the reserves and of course in ’51 they called me into the Korean War. Now, the strange thing was I’m here with the Korean athletes (in Helsinki) and they’re just like you and I. And I have trade pins from their country and they were just as wonderful and as nice as can be. I respect everybody for representing their country.” In 1956, Hodge again represented the United States, this time he was on both the freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling teams at the Games in Melbourne, Australia. He ended up only fighting freestyle, and won the silver medal. Nikola Stancheu of Bulgaria claimed the gold.
He is very proud of having gone to two Olympics. “You meet a lot of the Olympians from other countries and then you tell them you’ll see them at the next Olympics, and the chance of them making it for their country in four years from now and the chance of me making it for my country in four years was like one hundred million to one.”
Making friends came easy in the Athletes Villages. “The bonding of the athletes, that what was so neat about it, to see all the guys and girls from the different countries.”
The opening and closing ceremonies still give him chills to talk about. “What a thrill to walk into the stadiums in those countries and the fans, it was just thrilling.”
“When you walk around the stadiums and everybody gives you a standing ovation it just makes the goosebumps come up on your arm. Knowing you’re in the country to do your best and everybody is there to do their best, and this is the best.”
Hodge went on to a successful career in pro wrestling following the 1956 Games, and was the best for years and years as NWA World Light-heavyweight champion.
— with files from John F. Molinaro