On a recent episode of The Kurt Angle Show, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist discussed winning that medal with a broken neck.
Angle described how he had to get permission from a doctor to still participate in the Olympic trials after it was clear that his neck was broken. He described what type of medicine he would take from the doctor before each match after discovering his broken neck.
“You can’t do this today but back then, it was a little more giving,” Angle said. “Doctor would give you the option of possibly going for it even if you are injured. There was less liability back then.
“I never thought about quitting, everything was about what I had to do to make it back. The doctor told me I would have to take off a month of wrestling, that I couldn’t wrestle because I would do further damage to my neck. He said you could do limited weight training and conditioning but you have to stay off the mats for a good month and let your neck heal. He gave me a healing agent, non-steroidal because you can’t have steroids in the Olympics, you get tested all the time. It was a healing agent that helped tremendously, I could start feeling my fingers again. His game plan was to go to the Olympic trials with the doctor and he would stick me with 12 shots of novocaine five minutes before each match. I would do that and I couldn’t feel my neck, it actually worked. I was worried about my neck the whole time and then when I got shot up like a racehorse, I didn’t feel it anymore so I was like okay, I can wrestle like this. It worked out tremendously but the thing is an hour after the match was over I was in excruciating pain again. It was a really difficult situation for me and I knew I was doing further damage to my neck.”
Having won a Gold Medal with a broken neck and wrestled throughout his WWE career with numerous injuries, Angle detailed what it was like for him to achieve the biggest accomplishment of his life with such a painful injury. Angle continued to highlight how he and his doctor came up with a game plan because he knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to win gold for the USA.
“I knew something was seriously wrong,” Angle said. “It was too painful. When you can’t feel your fingers and your arms, you know something is wrong with you. The nerves running down your arms are not working anymore, you’re not getting any feeling. You know that something serious is wrong with your neck and when the doctor told me ‘You have four broken vertebrae,’ I was like oh s--t, this is not good, I’m probably not going to be able to compete anymore.
“When I told him we had two months, he said ‘Well, we might be able to make that work.’ He thought the Olympic trials were going to be in a week and if it was that, there was no way we were going to be able to compete. It was enough time to get me back into it and get me in a groove where I can be confident about winning.”
Continuing to talk about the doctor needing to clear him in order to participate in the Games, Angle detailed how the doctor went with him and gave him 12 shots of novocaine before each match. Angle also detailed how major the risk he was taking was, saying it could’ve paralyzed him for life.
“You have to get a doctor’s permission and I had to convince a doctor to clear me,” Angle said. “That’s when we came up with the game plan, to rest a little bit, get myself ready. He gave me a tester with shots of novocaine before the trials to see how I felt with it. Everything worked well and we were ready to go. The doctor flew with me to the Olympic trials and he was there every time I had to wrestle, stick the novocaine in my neck and I’m off.
“The crazy thing is I would forget my neck was broken because I couldn’t feel anything. When you can’t feel anything, you go as hard as you possibly can and I can’t thank the doctor enough for doing that to me. Warning for anybody that’s thinking of doing this, there are consequences to it. I could’ve ended up getting paralyzed, I was taking a big chance but for me, the Olympics, I wasn’t guaranteed I was going to make the next Olympic team. That’s a once in a lifetime thing, maybe twice if you’re very talented. I had to take advantage of this because I was in my prime of my career and this is the one opportunity I had and I had to make it work.”
Angle spoke about wrestling multiple matches in WWE through injuries and broken necks. The WWE Hall of Famer said he never cared about injuries and he’s unfortunately paying for those mistakes today after spending 40 years in the wrestling business.
“I didn’t [care about my neck] even in WWE, I broke my neck four more times,” Angle said. “All I cared about was getting back into the mix. I’m paying for it now, I’m 52 years old and I’m in a lot of pain man. My knees, my back, my shoulders, my neck. I’m paying the full price for everything I did. I don’t regret what I did, the Olympics and with the broken neck and wrestling with a broken neck in the WWE and going to TNA and everything like that. You look back and second guess, maybe I went a little too hard. Think about it, I wrestled pro and amateur for 43 years, that’s a lot of time, a lot of years.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Kurt Angle Show Podcast with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.