It's every wrestler's dream, but for one Panther it became a reality.
Bill Smith, '51, is the only UNI athlete to reach the zenith of wrestling, winning gold at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. When considering a final resting place for the medal, Smith 88, felt there was no better home than the West Gym, where he put in the hours of hard work that made it all possible.
And thanks to his generous donation, present and future Panthers will be inspired to make their dreams a reality too.
"I just wanted to make sure it was some place where it will be seen," said Smith. "After 50 years, people forget who you are."
Smith's medal floats at the center of a floor-to-ceiling display in the West Gym's Hall of Champions, a hallway of portraits dedicated to the finest wrestlers in the history of UNI. Smith's medal is "one of the most important artifacts in the history of UNI Athletics," according to the display.
Doug Schwab, UNI wrestling's head coach, said Smith's story provides an example for his wrestlers and the display will honor his legacy.
"Even though it was won over in Helsinki, it was still made in the West Gym," Schwab said. "I think that's the connection and taking it back to the start and to inspire, not just wrestling, but anyone who comes through the hall. Track is in here and softball. It's to inspire the next generation. I couldn't be more pleased that it will be the resting spot for the medal. It will inspire me every day too and lets us dream a little bit."
Smith came to Iowa State Teachers College from Council Bluffs. having never won a state title, he wasn't heavily recruited but joined the wrestling team nonetheless.
He would go on to become a leader on a powerhouse squad that sent three of his teammates to the 1948 Olympics. He won individual NCAA titles in 1949 and 1950, which he considers among his proudest accomplishments. His fondest memories were made on his home mat with his teammates.
"My favorite memory was, of course, winning the NCAA championship team title," Smith said. The team won the national title at the 1950 NCAA championships hosted in the West Gym.
Smith also qualified for the 1956 Olympics but was not allowed to compete because he had received money for being a high school wrestling coach, which was not allowed at the time.
"I wanted to try to make the team, because my wife didn't get to go in 1952," Smith said. He and his wife had talked over the difficult decision because athletes had to self-finance their trips back then.
"We were always looking for a nickel here and a nickel there, so she didn't get to go [in '52]," he said.
Smith finished his collegiate career undefeated at 52-0-2. He had a successful coaching career at the national level and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002.
UNI inducted Smith into its Hall of Fame in 1985 and named the team's wrestling mat after him in 2013.
"We can't honor him enough and what he did in the sport," Schwab said. "He still pays attention. He knows what is going on with our team. He loves wrestling, and he is still really sharp. I know he wants to see another guy do what he did. I know his heart is here, and his legacy will always be out in that hallway."