Kevin Jackson is considered one of the greatest freestyle wrestlers in United States history. After placing second at the 1987 NCAA Championships for Iowa State, Jackson became a pillar of strength in USA Wrestling, an organization where he is still making his presence known today.
A native of East Lansing, Mich., Jackson was a three-time All-American wrestler at Louisiana State before arriving in Ames. ISU head coach Jim Gibbons reaped the benefits of LSU’s decision to drop wrestling, as Jackson decided to finish the final year of his career as a Cyclone in the 1986-87 season.
Jackson’s addition gave ISU a huge boost. The Cyclones won the 1987 Big Eight crown, as Jackson and four others were titlists. ISU then ended Iowa’s dominance at the NCAA Championship, winning its first NCAA team title since 1977. ISU had five wrestlers in championship matches that season, including Jackson, who lost to Iowa’s Royce Alger in the 167-pound final. Jackson finished his only season at ISU with a 30-3-1 record.
Jackson immediately switched gears to international freestyle wrestling after graduation. Gibbons kept Jackson on staff as an assistant coach with the Cyclones, while continuing his workouts. After winning the USA International Freestyle Championships in 1989, Jackson became the face of USA Wrestling. In 1991, Jackson won the gold at the Pan American Games and was world champion at 180.5 pounds. He sustained dominance in his weight class and fulfilled his dream by winning the gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, defeating the Unified Team’s Elmadi Jabraijlov 1-0 in overtime. Jackson is one of five wrestlers in ISU history to win an Olympic gold medal.
Jackson won his final world title in 1995, helping him earn the John Smith Award as USA Wrestling Freestyle Wrestler of the Year. He is one of five U.S. wrestlers to claim three career world-level titles. Awards Jackson has racked up in his outstanding career include: Amateur Wrestling News Man of the Year (2003), USA Wrestling Wrestler of the Year (1991), USOC Wrestler of the Year (1991), National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee (2003).
Jackson continued his relationship with USA Wrestling after his competitive career ended. He was named freestyle resident coach in 1998 and he became national freestyle coach in January of 2001. His first two teams finished fifth and second, respectively, at the 2001 and 2003 World Championships. Jackson was matside at the crowning moment in ISU head coach Cael Sanderson’s career. He helped guide Sanderson to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, one of three Jackson wrestlers who qualified for a gold medal match.