Remembering Oly Olsen
November 22, 2015 at 11:32am
It’s a cruel irony. Those who were privileged to have known Oly Olsen will tell you that what stands out most was his heart. He was someone who pursued his passions and inspired the best in others. So to learn recently that our friend and brother had succumbed to a heart ailment feels even worse for those he leaves behind.
Born in Everett, Washington, Todd Olsen was 26 years old when he sought out Vancouver promoter Al Tomko to express his interest in a career in professional wrestling. Though standing only 5’7”, Olsen was a barrel-chested 235 pounds and was readily welcomed into the fold.
Promoter Tomko, originally from Winnipeg had wrestled with an acclaimed grappler named Olsen (no relation) in the 1950’s and 60’s and saw a resemblance in the upstart before him. Borrowing a handle from Albert “Ole” Olsen, Todd became Oly Olsen when he stepped through the ropes for his debut on January 9, 1984 in Vancouver.
“The first thing I remember as I was getting to know him was that he only talked when it was important, that he noticed everything and when he did speak it was only a few words, simple language, but with a profound meaning,” says “Rocket” Pat Brady. “He was very clear about where he stood on issues related to the promotion, as well as the outside world.”
Brady recalls that this candor also came through in Olsen’s televised interviews.
“Every one [of his All Star TV interviews] that I have on tape could fall into that category. Politics, work rate, women, the fans watching, it didn’t matter – he let everyone have it in his understated yet direct and ironic way of setting things straight. Even as a babyface he didn’t hold back, but his heel interviews are the best.”
One of the best conditioned athletes in the territory, Olsen quickly earned the support of All Star audiences and they were firmly in his corner in his battles against the likes of Joe Cagle, Verne Siebert, Bruiser Costa, Sonny Meyers and Snake Williams among other worthy foes.
“In the gym he was a beast,” recalls Brady. “He believed that all one needed to work out properly were Olympic weights, dumbbells, power rack and a bench. He’d always be benching over 400 pounds and doing unbelievable standing tricep extensions with an Olympic bar with 205 pounds on it. I never saw anyone else so that exercise with an Olympic bar, let alone with the weight he was stacking on each end.”
While best known for his track record on the west coast (most every photo that exists publicly from Oly’s career is set against the backdrop of the Alice Mackay Building at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds) Olsen also ventured out with appearances for Stampede Wrestling in Calgary in 1987, for Tony Condello in Winnipeg in 1989, the Atlantic Provinces in 1991 – a year which was also highlighted by championship success in California.
“There always seemed to be a fair share of complaining about Al Tomko,” wrote Olsen in a regular blog posted as part of a series about the All Star Wrestling territory in the 80’s on Kayfabe Memories.com. “but I think that there are many just like me who would give anything to have that time period back, and Al Tomko too.”
Though All Star Wrestling fell into dormancy as the 80’s came to a close, Olsen’s reputation as a sturdy competitor had been well established and he maintained a regular schedule in B.C. first for West Coast Championship Wrestling and as one of the first wrestlers recruited for the upstart Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling promotion when it opened in 1996. In between, Oly was a fixture for Sandy Barr’s Championship Wrestling USA, Dave Dobashi’s UIWA promotion and even became a promoter himself under the banner of Ringside Pro Wrestling and presented select dates in Washington State. At age 40, Oly wound down his ring career in mid-1998. Except for a pair of matches to celebrate ECCW’s tenth anniversary, Olsen dropped completely from the glare of the ring lights and focused on ventures outside of the world of wrestling.
“Oly was a good hand,” remembers Michelle Starr, who competed between the ropes with Olsen as well as working with him as a promoter. “He was always in great shape and gave it 110%. He was a champion in all of my promotions starting with WCCW in the early 90s to the All Star Wrestling Legends title near the end of his career. He always treated me and my family with respect and is one of the few wrestlers that my wife genuinely liked.”
Fans were delighted when Oly Olsen returned home to All Star Wrestling in 2013 after a fifteen year absence from the marquee. Even at age 55, Oly was still in impeccable condition. Wowing fans (and shaming his peers) he warmed up in the ring for his return match with brisk calisthenics and single-armed pushups. When the bell rang, there was no doubt to anyone in the building that Olsen was still a contender.
“Cloverdale was where everyone showed up,” Olsen wrote in his Kayfabe Memories blog. “The fans and wrestlers alike, the photographers were there and the loyal fans of All Star Wrestling were ready for action. It was a wild atmosphere, but still a place where you could bring your family. After returning to the dressing room after a match at Cloverdale, when asked ‘how is the house?’ Joe Cagle used to say: ‘Oh, there’s a couple of chickens, some cows, a few pigs, but mostly people.”
It was no surprise when Oly added a 17th championship reign to his already impressive track record, defeating Fabulous Fabio to capture the All Star Wrestling Legends title almost as soon as he arrived on the scene. His final match took place on July 25, 2014 at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds, ending his 30 year career the way it began – with his hand raised in victory.
In 2013, CNWA Magazine published an all time ranking of the top wrestlers to appear in western Canada during the 110 year history of the sport in this region. Oly Olsen was on that list, one of only 20 active wrestlers to be rated.
Throughout his career, Oly prided himself on making career decisions that ensured he put his children first. His stay in Alberta for Stampede Wrestling, for example, was limited only to a few weeks, so as not to be away from his kids for too long. In more recent years, those sharing the locker room with Olsen watched his eyes light up at every opportunity to share stories about his grandchildren. For Oly, while wrestling was a lifelong passion, family always came first.
“He absolutely adored his children and they were never far from his thoughts,” says Brady. “In a way, all that he did [in the wrestling business] was for them. He made a lot of sacrifices to come out on the road with us.”
Word of Oly’s failing health hit the wrestling community abruptly in November. On November 15, it was announced that after open heart surgery doctors had determined that Oly required a new heart and friends launched a campaign to raise the funds required for that surgery. Within three days, the campaign had already attracted more than $3,500 in support when sadly we received word that the artificial heart that doctors had hoped would carry him through until a suitable donor organ became available had fatally failed.
For friends and colleagues, we will always remember Oly Olsen as having the heart of a champion.