In the history of the modern Olympics, California could rank as a major ``national'' power in its own right, based on number of participants and medals won. Until this year, however, there have usually been more faces on Mt. Rushmore than Olympians from sparsely settled South Dakota (pop., 700,000). The days of counting the state's Olympic athletes on one hand have ended, though, thanks to two sets of twins on the American team here in Seoul.
In a refreshing geographical coincidence, Jim and Bill Scherr, who grew up in Mobridge, S.D., are preparing to wrestle in the freestyle competition, and Dennis and Duane Koslowski, who come from Doland, S.D., have been competing in the Greco-Roman part of the program.
Wrestling is a sport that lends itself to brotherly battles. The Koslowskis claim to have broken a bathroom door or two and put a few holes in the wall as rambunctious youths who would eventually wrestle and play football at the University of Minnesota-Morris.
Jim Scherr says their tussles began when Bill took up the sport at the junior level in the fourth or fifth grade. ``He'd come home and practice all his moves on me,'' Jim recalls. ``I had to wrestle in self-defense.''
Though three-sport high school athletes, they earned wrestling scholarships to Nebraska, where both won NCAA titles as seniors in 1984.
All four athletes now live outside South Dakota. The Koslowskis, Minneapolis residents, are sometimes referred to as the ``Minnesota Twins,'' with no apologies to baseball's world champions. The Scherrs have also remained in the Midwest, Jim in the Chicago area and Bill in Bloomington, Ind.
Because two grade levels and 100 miles separated the sets of brothers growing up, they knew of each other, but were not really rivals. Having pursued different wrestling forms, they remain casual acquaintances with different perspectives on their sport.
``Real men wrestle Greco-Roman,'' quips Duane Koslowski in a slight dig at those of the more established American freestyle community.
In the United States, freestyle, which resembles the down-on-the-mat style practiced in high school and college programs, has long been more popular than Greco-Roman, which bars holds below the waist and involves a lot of upright grappling.
That has begun to change somewhat since 1984, when the US won its first Greco-Roman medals. The most memorable performance was turned in by Jeff Blatnick, whose surprise at winning a gold after overcoming a serious malady reduced the bearish heavyweight to uncontrollable tears.
Some of the other wrestling results basically were overshadowed, including a freestyle gold by 137-pound Randy Lewis, who accounts for one-half of South Dakota's previous Olympic history.
The rest was written by Billy Mills, an American Indian, whose spectacular victory in the 10,000-meter run at Tokyo in 1964 forms one of the most stunning chapters of the modern Games.
This year, of course, the whole state is ecstatic about the emergence of the South Dakota wrestling connection. On July 4, the Scherrs rode on a flatbed truck as the featured attractions of the Mobridge (pop., 4,174) parade. The Koslowskis have been similarly honored in their hometown.
Once a South Dakotan, always a South Dakotan is the basic theme here. The twins are proud to have spent their formative years in the state, and in turn people there have remained supportive of them, even helping to defray some of their training expenses.
All four wrestlers have a Bunyanesque look about them. They are big, strong young men, and it comes as no surprise that they were introduced to heavy labor early in their lives.
From the time they were 10, the Scherrs were stacking bales of hay onto the trucks that were part of their dad's trucking fleet. Duane Koslowski says he and his brother also learned to put in a ``man's day of hard work'' baling on a family farm.
Today, fitting all four of them into a Hyundai would be difficult at best.
Duane wrestles in the heavyweight, 130-kilogram (287 pound) division and Dennis, who won a bronze here, goes in the next lower 100-kg (220 pound) category. The Scherrs are also scale-tippers, with Jim competing at the 90-kg (198 pound) weight division, and Bill at 100 kg.
For all four brothers to make the Olympics, they obviously couldn't share the same weight, even if they are nearly identical physically in other ways.
In the Scherrs' case, this has led to some very brotherly, unselfish decisions. They wrestled each other once in the sixth grade, but have refrained from doing so, except in practice, since that time.
When they reached the national finals in the same weight class one year, Jim forfeited to Bill. The favor was returned by Bill, who was the 1985 world champion in the 198-pound class, but moved to a heavier weight to give his twin a shot at making the Olympic team at 198.
The Koslowskis lost their mother when they were two and grew up with an aunt and uncle. ``I'm sure we're even closer as brothers because of that,'' says Duane, who originally came out of athletic retirement so Dennis would have a good practice ``sparring partner.''
Dennis, a silver medalist at the 1987 world championships, just missed making the '84 Olympic team, losing in such an unsatisfying way that he contemplated challenging the outcome in court.
Though Duane moved into a heavier weight class to join his brother at the Olympics, he says, ``I'm still a closet 220-pounder,'' only one who doesn't have to make the sort of mealtime sacrifices so common among weight-cutting wrestlers.
``I eat dessert by myself,'' he says of his repasts at the athletes' Olympic Village.
The Koslowskis are ``real late maturers,'' in Dennis's mind. They are 29, with well-established careers. Dennis is a chiropractor and Duane an insurance agent.
The Scherrs, 27, are still working toward their MBAs, Jim at Northwestern University and Bill, who is an assistant wrestling coach, at Indiana University.
The Koslowskis train regularly at the University of Minnesota, but the Scherrs have had to shuttle back and forth between Chicago and Bloomington to practice together.
Both sets of twins project a wholesome manliness and would be perfect ``good guys'' for the hokey pro wrestling circuit. ``Even if we don't do well here, I'm sure they'll approach us,'' says Jim Scherr, who doesn't sound interested.
``I think pros are hurting wrestling. I'd love it if they didn't use the word `wrestling' in their title and called it `the World Theatrical Match Association' or something. They call themselves world champions, but I've never seen any of those guys at the world championships.''
The Olympics is where the real wrestlers are, and if you don't believe it, just ask the folks in South Dakota.