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Iowa’s Greatest Athletes

You know, for the 32nd most populous state in the US, Iowa has historically punched well above its weight when it comes to producing world class sportspeople. Maybe it’s the water, or the big rolling vistas that imbues Iowans with the virtues of champions. Whatever it is, the state’s sons and daughters have gone out into the world to claim victory in pursuits as diverse as baseball and wrestling. Below we’re taking a look at the history and accolades of perhaps Iowa’s greatest ever athletes.

Pat Miletich

Those uninitiated into the world of Mixed Martial Arts could be forgiven for never having heard of Pat Miletich, however few have ever had as outsized an impact on the world of the UFC, the sport’s headline promotion, as this Davenport native. Miletich started out wrestling as a kid and never stopped and it wasn’t long before he was making a name for himself in MMA. He eventually went on to become the UFC’s first Welterweight Champion at UFC 17.5, where he defeated Mikey Burnett by decision back in 1998. 

He went on to defend this title 5 times before retiring and founding Miletich Fighting Systems, a successful MMA training camp that produced numerous UFC champions including Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia and Robbie Lawler by combining Miletech’s homegrown brand of wrestling with a martial art known as Muay Thai. In Thailand, from whence this dynamic striking style originates, Muay Thai remains the most popular sport in the country. As such, Thai fight fans frequently use platforms such as Asiabet, which serves up guides to the best online casinos in Thailand, in addition to furnishing Muay Thai enthusiasts with the latest odds and predictions so they can place wagers on upcoming bouts in the Southeast Asian kingdom. Of late, Muay Thai has attained international acclaim thanks to its prominent role in the UFC and other MMA tournaments. Though it must be noted Miletich was fighting at a time before a combination of Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai became commonplace in the UFC, which makes his track record all the more impressive.

Frank Wykoff

One for the history books certainly, but as one of the finest Olympians America has ever produced we would be remiss not to put the spotlight on Frank Wykoff. Born in Des Moines in 1909, Wykoff’s athletic career was one of firsts. He was the very first athlete to win three gold medals for the relay, at the 1928 Amsterdam, 1932 Los Angeles, and 1936 Berlin Olympics. Additionally, Wykoff broke multiple world records across his career cementing his reputation as one of the fastest athletes of all time across any track-and-field discipline. 

In his debut he equaled the world record for 4x100m relay in 1928, tied it a further 4 times in 1929, set a new world record for 100-yard sprint in 1930 and equaled this again the same month. He then set a new world record for the University of Southern California for the 4x100m relay before setting an even faster time with Team USA at the L.A. Olympics – a time which he once again bested in Berlin in 1936. The Des Moines native is also remembered for his slogan that outlined his philosophy to both sport and life, which was ultimately adopted by the YMCA in 1938: “Clean Speech, Clean Sport, Clean Scholarship, Clean Life”.

Bob Feller

Affectionately known as “the heater from Van Meter”, eight time All-Star Bob Feller was arguably the most successful Iowan to ever throw a baseball. His talent was noticed early on, leading to him leapfrogging the minor leagues to begin his residency with the Cleveland Guardians at the age of just 17. So began an incredibly fruitful working relationship with the team he would call home for his entire career. 

All told, he was with the Guardians, then the Indians, in the MLB for 18 seasons over a period spanning 1936 to 1956, including their second ever World Series victory in 1948. Feller had one of the meanest fastballs in the game, and is arguably one of the finest right handed pitchers ever. His final win-loss record was an impressive 266 over 162 with an ERA of 3.25. All told he pitched 3827 innings, resulting in no less than 2581 strikeouts – at the time, the third highest number ever. All of this rightfully had Feller inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1962, and furthermore warrants his inclusion on this list.


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