KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Pete Mehringer became the first University of Kansas athlete to win an Olympic gold medal in 1932, but it wasn’t for track or basketball.
Mehringer struck gold in freestyle wrestling, beating the reigning Olympic champion and the tourney favorite to win the light-heavyweight division at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
Mehringer pinned Sweden’s Thure Sjöstedt in the opening round then pinned pre-Olympic favorite Harry Madison of Canada in the second round.
During the gold-medal match, Mehinger — the “Kansas Whirlwind” — outlasted Australia’s Eddie Scarf for the gold.
Growing up on a farm in western Kansas with six older brothers, Mehringer served as a student-coach for the Kinsley High School wrestling team as a sophomore in 1928.
He won an individual title and the team finished fourth that season, but Mehringer and Kinsley didn’t compete in 1929 due to the Great Depression.
As a senior, Mehringer hitchhiked more than 190 miles from Kinsley to Manhattan, Kansas, to win his second state championship.
Mehringer enrolled at KU after graduation, emerging as a star in football and wrestling.
Beginning his sophomore year, when he became eligible for college competition, Mehringer won three straight Missouri Valley Conference titles.
His only loss as a college sophomore in 1932 came against Northwestern’s Jack Riley in the heavyweight final at the National Intercollegiate Meet.
Later that year, he also lost to Riley at the Olympics Trials, but impressed enough that he was offered the light-heavyweight spot, if he could make weight.
After cutting 17 pounds in 12 days, Mehringer entered the Olympics and became a champion.
Upon returning to Kansas, Mehringer became an all-conference tackle for the football team and played in the first College All-Star Game after his senior season in 1934.
Mehringer wound up being a student-coach in wrestling again his senior season after the Jayhawks’ coach, Leon Bauman, resigned to enter medical school.
He went undefeated as a senior, but then-Athletic Director Phog Allen decided not to pay for his trip to the National Intercollegiate Meet.
Despite being an Olympic champion, he never got another chance to win an NCAA title and left school without graduating after Allen refused to let him keep his on-campus job.
Instead, Mehringer signed with the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals, where he played for three seasons before joining the Los Angeles Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs, who were the first pro sports team on the West Coast, became the first unbeaten pro football team in history, going 8-0 to win the 1937 American Football League crown and 16-0 overall.
Mehringer was an All-AFL selection at guard that season, the last before the second incarnation of the AFL disbanded.
He also toured as a professional wrestler, primarily in New Zealand, and worked in Hollywood as an extra, including appearances alongside Ronald Reagan in “Knute Rockne: All-American,” and as a stuntman,” including appearances in a Tarzan movie and as Bob Hope’s stand-in in “The Road to Zanzibar.”
Mehringer was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1984.
He also is a member of the KU Athletics Hall of Fame and Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
The Kansas City region has a deep, rich history with respect to the Olympic Games. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games approach with the Opening Ceremony scheduled for July 23, we will profile an athlete with ties to Kansas City, Missouri or Kansas each day.
41 Action News and KSHB.com is your home of the Tokyo Olympics. Follow our coverage at kshb.com/sports/olympics and check out our complete list of 100 Kansas City-area Olympians as it is revealed.