A Capital District sports legend passed away last Wednesday.
Olympic gold medalist Jeff Blatnick died of complications from heart surgery at Ellis Hospital at the age of 55.
Duanesburg wrestling coach Joe Bena – who coached Blatnick at Niskayuna High School in the mid 1970s – saw Blatnick two days earlier at a Section II meeting.
“I had no clue Jeff was sick,” said Bena. “He never said anything about his health, but then again he never complained about his health. Even when he went through his cancer treatments, he never complained. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Blatnick gained national attention when he won the super heavyweight Greco Roman wrestling gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, in part due to his battle to overcome Hodgkins lymphoma two years earlier. His achievement led to the United States Olympic team voting for him to carry the American flag at the closing ceremony.
Since then, Blatnick took on several roles including motivational speaker, mixed martial arts judge, a TV sports commentator and for the past seven years, a volunteer assistant coach with the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School wrestling program. He also worked with Journeyman Wrestling as a coach.
“We were very fortunate to have Jeff working in our program,” said BH-BL varsity wrestling coach Steve Jones. “It was great to have him in the (practice) room in terms of technical support. He always had a great knowledge of wrestling technique.”
Blatnick’s interest in coaching high school wrestling was fueled by his son, Ian. The younger Blatnick took up his father’s sport and was about to enter his senior season with the wrestling team at the time of his father’s death.
“Ian is a great kid – always has a smile on his face,” said Jones.
Also a football player, Ian Blatnick was preparing for last Friday’s Section II Class A semifinal game against Queensbury when his father died. Ian decided to suit up for the contest, and varsity coach Matt Shell let Ian play the last five minutes of a 36-20 victory.