John E. du Pont, who supported prominent Philadelphia-area triathletes including Jeff Devlin, Ken Glah, Steve Fitch, Brooks Clark and Joy Hansen Leutner on his Team Foxcatcher in the early 1990s, died in a Pennsylvania prison Thursday. Du Pont was 72 and was serving a 13 to 30 year sentence for third degree murder in the January 26, 1996 shooting death of 1984 gold medal winning Olympic freestyle wrestler Dave Schultz.
DuPont was doing his time in Laurel Highlands State Prison near Somerset, Pennsylvania when he was discovered dead in his cell. Du Pont, a former amateur wrestler and modern pentathlete, had been a long-time supporter of Olympic swimmers, wrestlers and modern pentathletes before he added triathletes to the string of sponsored athletes who competed under his own Team Foxcatcher banner.
DuPont was found guilty in 1997 but mentally ill in the shooting of Schultz at his 800-acre estate in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania west of Philadelphia. Schultz, as did many athletes including at least one Team Foxcatcher triathlete, lived and trained on the millionaire’s estate which was equipped with $600,000 in athletic facilities including a 50-meter pool, a gym, sauna, running track, shooting range and weight room. At times, du Pont would take his athletes to events in a helicopter and over the years devoted millions of dollars to support athletes in his favorite sports. From 1989 through 1995, he donated $400,000 a year to USA Wrestling and in return his name was stitched into team warm-ups.
DuPont, heir to an estimated $200 million fortune, constructed an indoor swimming pool decorated with a mural made up of a million pieces of imported Florentine rock which depicted him in heroic poses in the five disciplines of the modern pentathlon. In reality, the New York Times reported that pentathlon officials described du Pont as “a competent dilettante” who failed to qualify for the 1968 Olympic team.
After the shooting, DuPont barricaded himself in his home for two days before police managed to trick the multi-millionaire to leave his mansion to fix a boiler the police had shut off.
Long time friend Mike Gostigian, an Olympic modern pentathlete, told the New York Times that DuPont’s behavior grew troublesome in 1980s after injuries suffered in an auto accident ended his life as a sportsman, his marriage failed and his mother died. Family members added that DuPont started to abuse drugs and alcohol and his public behavior became increasingly weird. Jere Longman of the New York Times reported that DuPont asked to be introduced as the Dalai Lama at the 1995 World Wrestling championships in Atlanta.
Schultz was described as the man who was closest to DuPont and tried to help his benefactor during this period of mental deterioration. Gostigian told the New York Times that DuPont “might have harbored some delusional fear of Schultz.”
At his best moments, du Pont appeared caring and beneficent.
The New York Times reported that after du Pont helped her through a stressful period in the mid-1980s, the triathlete Joy Hansen Leutner had her fiancé seek du Pont's permission to marry. "With my family and friends, John gave me a new lease on life," Leutner told the Times. "He gave more than money; he gave himself emotionally." She added, “There's no way John in his right mind would have killed Dave."
By all accounts none of the triathletes who competed for du Pont’s Team Foxcatcher were aware of the dangerous nature of his mental state.
In essence, the Team Foxcatcher episode is joined with Team J David as peculiar asterisks in the history of triathlon. Back in the early 1980s, La Jolla financier Jerry Dominelli, later charged and convicted of defrauding investors of $200 million in what amounted to an international Ponzi scheme, founded a triathlon team supporting the biggest names in the sport – including Scott Tinley, Mark Allen and Scott Molina. Just as with Team Foxcatcher, the triathletes had no participation in the shady aspects of their sponsors. After year or so of the high life, Team J David disappeared in a cloud of prosecution and litigation.