Dave and Nancy Schultz left Madison in 1989 to live on an 800-acre estate west of Philadelphia devoted to the sport of wrestling.

The estate was owned by a wealthy wrestling patron named John du Pont, heir to a chemical company fortune.

What happened next, a tale of madness and murder, will be detailed in two new films tentatively scheduled for release later this year.

Dave and Nancy had been in Wisconsin three years when they moved to Pennsylvania. They arrived in Madison in summer 1986, when Dave took a job as an assistant wrestling coach at UW-Madison. The head coach was Andy Rein, Dave’s teammate at the 1984 Olympics. Schultz won a gold medal that year, Rein silver.

“It was a great young coaching staff,” Nancy Schultz said, when we spoke last week.

Her husband liked Madison, the liberal mindset, even the weather extremes. Dave did miss the scuba diving in his native California. He dreamed about it sometimes.

The Schultzes moved to Madison from Palo Alto — Dave had coached at Stanford — with their young son, Alexander. While they were here, their daughter, Danielle, was born.

“It was hard to leave Madison,” Nancy said.

But the Pennsylvania opportunity was unprecedented. There had never been a training facility like Foxcatcher Farm, the property converted into a wrestling haven by du Pont after the death of his mother in 1988. The best wrestlers in the United States lived and trained at Foxcatcher.

The competition made everyone better.

“Steel sharpens steel,” Dave Schultz said, quoting Badgers wrestling great Lee Kemp. Many of the wrestlers had young families. At night they gathered for barbecues.

“It was a kind of utopia,” Nancy said. “For a while.”

Freedom from money worries was a luxury for wrestlers. Nancy recalled that at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles — Dave’s gold medal year — she didn’t attend the opening ceremonies because they couldn’t afford a ticket.

They’d been married two years by then. They met at the University of Oklahoma, introduced by a professor. Six months later they were married, and that year Dave won an NCAA wrestling championship.

“Everyone gave me credit,” Nancy said.

At the 1984 Olympics, when Dave won gold at 163 pounds, his brother Mark earned a wrestling gold at 180.5 pounds. Three years later, when Dave was coaching in Madison, Mark took an assistant coaching job at Villanova University. The Villanova wrestling program had been created by money from du Pont, who named himself head coach, which likely played a role in Villanova dumping wrestling after just two seasons.

Because while du Pont was wealthy, he was also eccentric.

“Serious mental health issues,” Nancy said, that worsened over time, and weren’t helped by his abuse of drugs and alcohol.

In 1995, according to the New York Times, at the world wrestling championships in Atlanta, “du Pont wore an orange jumpsuit and asked to be introduced as the Dalai Lama.”

The one man thought to be able to handle du Pont, and perhaps the wrestler closest to him, was Dave Schultz. A dozen years on from his gold medal, Schultz was revered in the wrestling world for his talent and engaging personality. In January 1996, Schultz was pointing toward the Olympics that summer in Atlanta.

He was also, Nancy said, increasingly concerned about their wealthy patron. “He was telling du Pont he needed to get help,” she said. After the Olympics, Nancy added, they were going to move from Foxcatcher.

On the afternoon of Jan. 26, 1996, when Schultz was outside working on his car, du Pont shot and killed him. Nancy, inside, called 911. Du Pont was found guilty but mentally ill, and was sentenced to 13 to 30 years in the western Pennsylvania prison where, in December 2010, he died.

Du Pont had threatened her from prison, Nancy said. With his death, she felt better able to cooperate with the two films being made about her late husband’s life.

One is a documentary, tentatively titled “Schultz,” by the filmmaker Jon Greenhalgh. The other, a feature by “Capote” director Bennett Miller, is titled “Foxcatcher” and stars Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz, Steve Carrell as du Pont and Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz.

Nancy, who now lives in California, is grateful. Dave Schultz will be remembered.

“He was a unique and amazing man,” she said.


Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

 

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