Leading off today:
Jeff Blatnick, a New York state high school champion who overcame cancer to win a gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Summer Olympics, died Wednesday of heart failure following surgery. He was 55.
Blatnick, who had most recently coaching wrestling at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, was the U.S. flag bearer at the closing ceremony for the '84 Olympic in Los Angeles.
"Jeff was a very valuable member of our BH-BL athletic coaching staff," AD Bob McGuire said in a statement released by the district. "He was a man who was totally respected by everyone he touched. He was respected for his knowledge, character and spirit. Jeff was a major part of our wrestling program and was a great role model for students who came through our program.
"Jeff came to me and asked if he could volunteer to help coach. What do you say to an Olympic champion who asks to help! You say 'Yes!! Welcome abroad and let me get the door for you!' "
Blatnick’s career started at Niskayuna, where he won the NYSPHSAA heavyweight division in 1975, and with a pair of NCAA Division II championships at Springfield College.
Blatnick qualified for the 1980 U.S. team 1980 squad that didn't compete in Moscow because the boycott initiated by President Jimmy Carter. In 1982, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was treated and went into remission in time to win gold two years later despite having his spleen removed.
“Jeff was a giant in wrestling and the Olympic family,” said Gary Abbott of USA Wrestling. “For many people that knew Jeff, even beyond the great work he put into wrestling, this is a sad day. We hope the world understands the massive contributions he made to society.”
Blatnick survived a second battle with cancer following his gold medal. After his retirement, he became a motivational speaker, highlighting his perseverance in overcoming cancer and a plane crash. He was also involved in the early days of mixed martial arts, including work laying down modern rules for the sport.
“The UFC sends its sincerest condolences to the family and friends of former commentator and judge Jeff