The greatest Swedish wrestler of all time
Triple Olympic champion Ivar Johansson achieved the rarest of feats in Los Angeles in 1932 as he sealed gold in both styles of wrestling and two different weight categories.
Norrkoping’s best known lawman
Born in the town of Norrkoping, 136km south of Swedish capital Stockholm, policeman Ivar Valentin Johansson competed in his first Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928 in the Greco-Roman middleweight wrestling competition.
Though he lost two of his three fights and finished in ninth place on that occasion, Johansson opened his European title account in 1931 in the same discipline and went on to win an unprecedented number of titles in continental competition, claiming nine gold medals by 1939, six in Greco-Roman and three in freestyle. Curiously, he never competed in the world championships.
Saunas and success in LA
Having lost a middleweight Olympic qualifying bout against compatriot Axel Cadier, Ivar Johansson was forced to enter the welterweight Greco-Roman competition at Los Angeles 1932.
Johansson still opted for the middleweight category in the freestyle competition and, inside the Grand Olympic Auditorium on 1 August, he won every one of his matches in the 79kg category, achieving victory by pin in each bout until the final, where he sealed the gold medal with a dominant victory over Finland’s Kyosti Luukko.
Immediately after his win, Johansson headed straight for the city’s saunas with the aim of shedding surplus pounds in the 24 hours before his first 72kg Greco-Roman bout. After going without food and having sweated out all of the water from his system, he met the weight limit the following day and won his four fights – including three by pin – getting the better of another Finnish competitor in the final as he overcame Vaino Kajander to seal his second Olympic title.
Since Johansson’s famous victory, only Estonia’s Kristjan Palusalu has won both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling golds in the same Games, achieving the feat in 1936, but Johansson remains the only fighter to have achieved the feat in two different weight categories.
A third gold seals greatness
Johansson fought in his final Games in Berlin in 1936 and dominated the Greco-Roman middleweight competition, his category of choice. Round after round he proved himself to be vastly superior to his opponents, winning all six of his bouts – four in ruthless manner – before finally taking home a third Olympic title to equal the record of heavyweight compatriot Carl Westergen, winner of Greco-Roman wrestling in 1920, 1924 and 1932.
This pair would later be joined on three titles by two Russian heavyweight fighters: Aleksandr Medved in freestyle, who won in 1964, 1968 and 1972, and Aleksandr Karelin in Greco-Roman, who won in 1988, 1992 and 1996. All four wrestlers inscribed their names into the Olympic history books as the only men to have won triple wrestling golds in the 20th century.
Decorated with numerous titles and widely regarded as the greatest Swedish wrestler of all time, Johansson continued to train wrestlers in his home town of Norrkoping for many years before eventually passing away at the age of 76 on 4 August 1979.