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Jeff Blatnick, a former two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Division II Springfield College who overcame cancer to win a gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Summer Olympics, died of heart failure Wednesday in Schenectady, N.Y.
He was 55 years old.
Blatnick was a 1979 physical education graduate of Springfield and went on to make the 1980 Olympic wrestling team, but he was unable to compete due to the U.S. boycott of the Summer Games that were held in Moscow. The protest of the Games was due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
In 1982, Blatnick was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. After undergoing treatment that included the removal of his spleen, Blatnick resumed training and was able to win the gold medal at the super heavyweight division in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. His inspirational story led to him being chosen to carry the American flag during the closing ceremonies.
Blatnick, who later worked as a television commentator at the 1998, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, was inducted in the Springfield Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the U.S. Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999.
“On behalf of the entire Springfield College community, I wish to offer our heartfelt sympathy and support to Jeff’s family,” said Richard B. Flynn, president of Springfield College. “We are deeply saddened to hear of his untimely passing. An Olympic wrestling gold medal winner, motivational speaker, cancer survivor, and devoted son, husband, and father, Jeff was a role model and an inspiration to so many people. Jeff is an important part of the history and legacy of Springfield College.”
Springfield Athletics Director Cathie Schweitzer said: “There is no question that knowing Jeff made us all better people. He was truly an inspiration to all that knew him and a good friend to Springfield College athletics.”
Blatnick is survived by his wife, Lori, his mother, Angela, his brother, Andrew, his son, Ian and his daughter Niki.