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Jimmy Carr, youngest US Olympic wrestler, dead at 57

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Jimmy Carr, youngest US wrestler to qualify for the Olympic freestyle team, died Thursday, Aug 15. He was 58.

Carr died at UPMC Hamot in his native Erie, Pa., according to the Erie Times-News. A cause of death has yet to be officially determined, but he was involved in an auto accident July 30 in Erie.

At age 17, Carr – then a high school junior at Erie East High School -- earned a place on the US men’s freestyle wrestling team competing at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, and remains the youngest wrestler to take to the mats for the US at any modern Olympics.

While still in high school, Carr also won the 126-pound title at the 1973 Midlands, the post-Christmastime tournament at Northwestern University.

Born in Erie in January 1955, James Emmett Carr, Sr., also earned All-American honors at the now-defunct wrestling program at the University of Kentucky, competing for his older brother Fletcher Carr, Jr.. Jimmy earned All-American honors by placing fifth at 126 pounds at the 1977 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at University of Oklahoma. The No. 5 seed Carr was knocked out of title contention by Oklahoma State's Billy Martin in the quarterfinals, but avenged that loss by beating Martin in the match for fifth place.

Carr's freestyle and folkstyle mat accomplishments are even more impressive, given that he nearly lost his right leg due to a serious staph infection as a fifth grader, prior to taking up wrestling.

“At first they couldn’t operate to try to save the leg because I had such a high temperature,” Carr told Sports Illustrated’s Herman Weiskopf for a 1975 profile. “Mom asked me if I wanted the leg cut off. I said, ‘No, try to operate.’ They put me in a tub of ice and sat me in front of a fan to get my temperature down. It worked and they saved my leg. I must have been in the hospital four or five months and had to start fifth grade all over the next year.”

It was a year or so later that Jimmy Carr got into wrestling.

“I started wrestling in Tom Canavan’s garage in Erie, Pennsylvania,” Carr told James V. Moffatt for his 2007 book Wrestlers at the Trials. “I came from a wrestling family. I liked to go watch my older brother Fletcher wrestle. He was seven years older than me. He passed down a few pointers. After a year or two, he told our mom it was time for me to stop watching and to go out on the mat and wrestle.”

Carr lost an opportunity to wrestle for the US at the 1971 Pan American Games, but, later that year, he qualified for the US team competing at the 1971 FILA World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria at age 16.

Carr earned a place on the 1972 Olympic team at 114.5 pounds. According to Sports Illustrated, while in Munich, he was roommates with eventual bronze medalist – and two-time NCAA heavyweight champ for Iowa State – Chris Taylor, who tipped the scales at over 400 pounds. Carr did not place.

Jimmy Carr was from a family of 16 children. All nine boys wrestled and five were NCAA All-Americans, including Jimmy's younger brother Nate, a three-time NCAA champ for Iowa State, who went on to win a bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

"Jimmy was a huge inspiration for me and so many others," Nate Carr told Craig Sesker of TheMat.com. "He loved his family and he loved wrestling. He was a prodigy and achieved some pretty incredible feats when he was very young. He was an incredible wrestler who was so mentally tough.

"Jimmy wouldn't give me anything when we wrestled. He was four years older than me and I couldn't take him down. I would end up crying and storming out of the room. Before I could become one of the best wrestlers in the World, I just had to become the best wrestler in my own family."

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Erie Boys and Girls Club Wrestling Program, 1515 E. Lake Rd., Erie, PA 16511 (814-459-1977)

Want to know more? Read the obituary for James Emmett Carr, Sr.

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