Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 4/20/12
There's a long list of too-old athletes attempting an ill-fated comeback after retirement. Michael Jordan, who decided he could amaze again on the basketball court at age 38, saw his Washington Wizards miss the playoffs two years in a row. Jim Palmer, who finished his Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1984, tried to come back seven years later at age 45 and made it through two innings of a spring training game before calling it quits. Brett Favre's retire-then-unretire pathology finally ended at age 41, after he ignominiously finished his career with a 5-8 record and a sexting scandal. The story is often the same: A world-class talent trying to put off the inevitability of life after sport. The story of Andre Metzger is very different. When the 52-year-old from Michigan tries to make the US Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team at this weekend's trials in Iowa City, he'll be chasing no small achievement. The oldest US wrestler to medal at an Olympics? Chris Campbell, who took bronze in 1992 at age 37 -- 15 years younger than Metzger is today. But what makes Metzger stand out even more than his age is the event that sparked his comeback: The death of a 72-year-old multimillionaire in a western Pennsylvania prison in 2010. Anyone who follows wrestling knows the story of John E. du Pont. Not long ago he was the savior of USA Wrestling, the heir to the du Pont chemical fortune who made amateur sports, specifically wrestling, one of his main philanthropies. But in 1996, du Pont, who was schizophrenic, shot and killed Dave Schultz, a champion freestyle wrestler who won gold in the 1984 Olympics and was one of du Pont's closest friends. Du Pont was found guilty but mentally ill the following year and died in prison in December 2010. And what, exactly, does du Pont's death have to do with this 52-year-old trying to beat wrestlers half his age and make the Olympic team? It's because Metzger's chance at Olympic glory was cut short in the 1980s and 1990s through a series of bizarre events involving du Pont. Metzger had won medals in three senior world championships between 1979 and 1987, including silver in 1986. The man he lost to in that championship match, Arsen Fadzayev of the Soviet Union, went on to win Olympic gold in 1988 and 1992. Metzger seemed destined to get his shot at gold. But Metzger didn't have a chance to go to Seoul or to Barcelona. He was a recipient of du Pont's wrestling largesse; du Pont was helping out a financially struggling sport, so there was a feeling of being beholden to him, even as he tried to assert maniacal control over the wrestlers. Each time Metzger won nationals, du Pont gave him a $10,000 bonus. Du Pont also hired Metzger to be a wrestling coach at Villanova University, one of the biggest recipients of du Pont's philanthropies, paying Metzger $75,000 a year plus a free house. "It was a pretty sweet deal, too sweet to turn down," Metzger told FOXSports.com. "But I didn't know about him." Because accepting his money meant Metzger was also subjected to du Pont's erratic behavior, which Metzger said included sexual harassment (Metzger sued and they settled out of court), threats on Metzger's life and one attempt to kill him, Metzger said. When Metzger mounted a comeback attempt for the 1992 Olympics, du Pont threatened to kill his children, Metzger said. "The bottom line is he was an evil guy, and he had a lotta money," Metzger told FOXSports.com. "I just wasn't going to risk my family's life. There was no reason to stay in sport. So I stepped away." "And once he died, I had an opportunity." So here Metzger is, after three knee surgeries and a hyperextended knee, trying to be America's hope in the 74-kilo weight class in Greco-Roman wrestling. His body fat is around 5 percent. He does anywhere between two and seven workouts a day: swimming, lifting, sauna workouts, hot yoga, wrestling. "I said, 'OK, this guy is crazy,' " US national Greco-Roman coach Steve Fraser told the Detroit Free Press. "I hadn't heard from Andre in years. He was the real deal, a great competitor. The guy has been a real pleasure to have in our training room. He's training early in the morning and late at night; he's definitely a breath of fresh air." Think he doesn't have a chance? Logic says of course not. But Metzger says he's learning the new rules, he's honed a strategy to beat the youngsters, and he's beating the top US wrestlers in practice. "I've got potential to do this," Metzger said. "I wish I'd never been forced to retire early. But there was nothing I could do about that. Now I'm just (trying) to see if I can get it done." The chance of him getting it done this weekend in Iowa City is remote. But if he does, you'll be hearing the name Andre Metzger a lot in the months leading up to the Olympics, this time as a story of inspiration. You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at reidforgrave@gmail.com.
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