Three months have passed since Jeff Blatnick became an American hero by overcoming Hodgkin's disease to win an Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling. He's still trying to adjust.
Yesterday, as he posed for pictures prior to a luncheon in his honor at the Touchdown Club, Blatnick shook his head at the wonder of it all. "It's still unbelievable to me," he said. "Three months have gone by and the calls still come, the letters still come, the invitations still come. There's no way you could expect it all."
It has all come partly because of Blatnick's recovery from Hodgkin's (a form of cancer), partly because of his tearful reaction to victory and partly because he seems to have managed to remain unchanged since that remarkable night when millions of people watching on television cried along with him after he won the gold medal.
"We are here today to celebrate success," White House Special Counsel Edwin Meese told the audience. "But we are also here to celebrate the advances made in medical science. Jeff Blatnick is living proof of both."
Meese formally presented Blatnick with the Touchdown Club's Gene Brito Award, named after the former Redskin who continued to play football after being struck with a crippling bone disease that eventually killed him at the age of 39.
Blatnick has been receiving honors and awards almost nonstop since the Olympics. He arrived in Los Angeles as an unknown, but after he won the gold medal and the story of his comeback from radical surgery became known, he left the Games as one of the major symbols of the United States' success.
Now, he has hired an agent, he has done TV commercials and there is talk of a book. Next month, though, Blatnick will go home to Niskuyana, N.Y., a suburb of Schenectady, and begin preparing for next summer's world championships. As wonderful as his Olympic medal was, he would like to add a world championship to it because all the Eastern Bloc nations that boycotted the Olympics will be participating.
"The worlds are what I'm pointing for right now," he said. "I'm 27 so I'm really not sure if my body can hang on for another four years and another Olympics. But I definitely want one more crack next summer before I quit, if I decide to quit."
Blatnick still does not think about his comeback from Hodgkin's as being especially remarkable. He had his spleen removed less than two years before the Olympics and went through a rehabilitation period when even showering was painful because of the radiation treatments he was receiving.
"If I can be an inspiration for people, that's great," he said. "But I still think there's a stigma attached to cancer that we need to overcome. I think we need to think more positively about it because a lot of people have done a lot of work to make stories like mine possible."
On the night he won the gold medal, Blatnick cried unabashedly during the postmatch television interview as his parents stood nearby watching the scene. His victory was so dramatic that ABC announcer Russ Hellickson also began breaking down during the interview. Blatnick has seen the tape many times.
"Actually I try to look at it as little as possible," he said with a wry smile. "Every time I see it someone asks me how I felt and that's very hard to explain. Maybe later, a few years from now, I'll be able to watch it alone and revel in it."
For now, Blatnick is still sharing that moment. People are still reveling in it.