There are several athletes currently in the midst of their playing careers who have come from the Capital Region: Casper Wells, John Lannan, Dion Lewis and Mark Lyons just to name a few. However, one of the true original "sports ambassadors" to come from the Albany area has left us far too early. Earlier today, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School varsity wrestling coach Jeff Blatnick passed away due to complications from heart surgery. He was just 55 years old.

Blatnick was born in Niskayuna and won the New York State wrestling championship in the Heavyweight division in 1975. He would go on to win multiple Division II national championships while attending Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts. Blatnick would qualify for two Olympic teams in 1980 and 1984. The 1980 team would end up boycotting the Summer Games, which were held in Moscow during the height of the Cold War.

In the 1984 Summer Games held in Los Angeles, Blatnick was representing the United States two years after having his spleen and appendix removed due to a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma. He would receive radiation therapy to hold the cancer in remission, then go on to win the Gold Medal in the Super Heavyweight division. Blatnick and teammate Steve Fraser became the first Americans to ever win gold in Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling.

After serving as a television commentator during the 1988 Summer Olympics, Blatnick became a tremendous ambassador and contributor to the growth of Mixed Martial Arts. He would be a commentator for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) from 1994-2001 and serve some time as the commissioner. During his time spent with the UFC, Blatnick was involved in developing the modern rules of the sport and wrote the Mixed Martial Arts Council Manual.

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