Big Ten

Iowa's Jessie Whitmer Is Still The Strongest Man In The World

Iowa's Jessie Whitmer Is Still The Strongest Man In The World

Jessie Whitmer's improbable run to the 118-pound title at the 1997 NCAA Championships will likely never be repeated.

May 12, 2023 by Kyle Klingman
Iowa's Jessie Whitmer Is Still The Strongest Man In The World

Former Iowa coach Dan Gable declared Jessie Whitmer as the strongest man in the world immediately after he won the 118-pound title at the 1997 NCAA Championships in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was a nickname assistant coach Terry Brands gave the lightweight wrestler during his senior season. 

His improbable run to the top was a memorable moment during Gable’s final season as Iowa’s head coach. The Hawkeyes scored 170 team points — a record that still stands. 

Whitmer was the backup for four straight seasons behind Chad Zaputil (three-time finalist) and Mike Mena (four-time All-American) before starting his senior year. He is a one-time starter, a one-time All-American, and a one-time NCAA champion. His story seems nearly impossible during the current era of the transfer portal and NIL deals. 

Here is a breakdown of his run to the 118-pound title:

Round of 32: won by major decision, 17-7, over Jose Enriquez (Brigham Young)

Round of 16: won by major decision, 12-4, over David Pena (Eastern Illinois)

Quarterfinals: won by decision, 7-4, over David Morgan (Michigan State)

Semifinals: won by decision, 10-7, over Teague Moore (Oklahoma State)

Finals: won by decision, 5-4, over Lindsey Durlacher (Illinois)

Only two 118-pound wrestlers won NCAA titles during Gable’s 21 seasons as head coach: Whitmer and three-time NCAA champion and three-time World/Olympic medalist Barry Davis

Here is a breakdown of Gable’s 118-pound All-Americans during his 21 seasons (1977-97):

1978: Dan Glenn — 3rd

1979: Dan Glenn — 3rd

1980: Dan Glenn — 2nd

1981: Barry Davis — 7th

1982: Barry Davis — 1st

1983: Tim Riley — 5th

1984: Tim Riley — 5th

1985: Matt Egeland — 2nd

1989: Steve Martin — 7th

1991: Chad Zaputil — 2nd

1992: Chad Zaputil — 2nd

1993: Chad Zaputil — 2nd

1994: Mike Mena — 7th

1995: Mike Mena — 3rd

1996: Mike Mena — 5th

1997: Jessie Whitmer — 1st

Whitmer downed Lindsey Durlacher of Illinois in the finals to win an NCAA title during his lone season as the starter

Finally, here are some of the notable wrestlers in the bracket when Whitmer won his title:

— Sheldon Thomas (Clarion): 1996 NCAA champion and three-time All-American (5-1-3)

— Todd Beckerman (Nebraska): Two-time All-American (5-4) from 2000-01

— Jeremy Hunter (Penn State): 2000 NCAA champion and three-time All-American (5-2-1)

— Shane Valdez (Oklahoma): Three-time All-American (8-6-4) from 1996-99

— Lee Pritts (Eastern Michigan): Current Arizona State assistant and sixth place in 1996

— Lindsey Durlacher (Illinois): Two-time All-American (4-2) and 2006 Greco World bronze medalist

— Teague Moore (Oklahoma State): 1998 NCAA champion and three-time All-American (4-1-3)

— Brandon Paulson (Minnesota): 1996 Greco Olympic silver medalist, 2001 Greco World silver, 1998 All-American (7th)

— David Morgan (Michigan State): Three-time All-American (3-5-2) from 1996-98

— Cody Sanderson (Iowa State): Current Penn State associate head coach, two-time finalist (1999-00)


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Dan Gable joined LIncoln McIlravy and Jessie Whitmer to reflect on Iowa's record-setting 1997 season.