Gable Steveson, who went undefeated for the third consecutive season on his way to back-to-back Big Ten and NCAA heavyweight wrestling championships, on Wednesday was named the 2021-22 Big Ten Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year.
The former Apple Valley High School standout becomes the fifth Gopher to win the award, joining John Roethlisberger (gymnastics, 1993), Jordan Leopold (hockey, 2002), Damion Hahn (wrestling, 2004) and Cole Konrad (wrestling, 2007). He is the 13th wrestler to win the award, and the Gophers join Iowa as the only wrestling programs to have three Big Ten Male Athletes of the Year.
Wisconsin volleyball player Dana Rettke, who led the Badgers to their first NCAA championship, was named Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year for the second time, also winning the honor in 2020. She is the third two-time recipient of the honor.
Steveson, who won the heavyweight freestyle championship in dramatic fashion at the Beijing Olympics last summer, also won his second consecutive Dan Hodge Trophy as the nation's top collegiate wrestler.
"It is a great honor for Gable to be chosen as Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year among many other remarkable athletes,'' Gophers wrestling coach Brandon Eggum said in a statement. "He is such a great representative for the University of Minnesota, our program, and the sport of wrestling. We could not be more proud of his accomplishments.''
Steveson, who has signed with World Wrestling Entertainment, announced he was retiring from amateur wrestling after the NCAA Championships last March. Recently, though, Eggum said Steveson has reached out to him about returning for the 2022-23 season. Steveson has one year of eligibility remaining because of the COVID-19 waiver granted to student-athletes. He is 85-2 in his Gophers career, with a third-place Big Ten and NCAA finish in his freshman season.
"The thing that is music to our ears — and obviously we'd love to have him come back — is the fact he still wants to compete,'' Eggum said earlier this month during the Gophers Coaches Caravan stop in Stillwater. "He just turned 22, and for most men in wrestling, they hit their prime around 27, 28. He's continued to develop. He has a desire to compete. He loves being on that stage and entertaining people.
"He's made it clear he still has the desire,'' Eggum added, "but there's a lot of things that have to work out for that. It's not just college, but potentially wrestling for another world and Olympic championship as well.''
Eggum said Steveson would have to clear a return and work out the logistics with WWE.
"It would be a special moment for the local people to get one more chance to watch him compete and see the backflip,'' Eggum said.