The wrestling community –- not just in the United States but worldwide -– was thrown to its back on Tuesday when the International Olympic Committee decided that wrestling would no longer be part of the Olympic program starting in 2020.
The decision is not final. In May, IOC officials will meet to decide which sport to add to bring the program back up to 26 -– wrestling will join baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, and wushu, a Chinese martial art.
|IOC DROPS WRESTLING|
IOC leaders dropped wrestling from the Olympic program on Tuesday, a surprise decision that removes one of the oldest Olympic sports from the 2020 Games.
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In September, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a final vote will be held to determine the 2020 program.
“FILA will take the necessary measures to convince the IOC Executive Board and IOC members of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games,” said the international governing body for the sport of wrestling in a release.
A statement released by the IOC stated Tuesday’s decision was a “process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics.”
Many of the United States’ wrestling leaders vow to fight for their sport. The initial reaction, however, was one of shock.
“My first reaction this morning was emotional,” said Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, an Olympic gold medalist in 1988 and 1992. “ It was a tough, tough 15 minutes because I didn’t know at the time that there was an opportunity to fight back. I didn’t know at the time that we can win this battle.
“It made me sick. As the day went on, I got stronger. I was on the phone a lot [Tuesday] with not just people in this country but all over the world. We’re all ready to stand together.”
Cael Sanderson, head coach at Penn State and a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, said, “Like anybody else, I was a little surprised. It’s one of the sports that the Olympics started with and built upon. Being one of the original sports, you don’t really think that it’s an option that you pull that out of the Olympics.
“I don’t think I’ve really accepted it yet. I think it’s more of we’re in round one and we still got two rounds to go here.”
Wrestling has been part of the modern Olympic program since its reinstitution in 1896. Research has shown wrestling to be a part of the original sports contested in the Olympics Games of Greece. Women’s wrestling, in freestyle, was added to the program in 2004, joining men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman. At the 2012 Games in London, 29 countries won medals, showing a wide range of interest in the sport worldwide. The United States won two gold medals in London -– Jordan Burroughs, a graduate of Nebraska, and Jake Varner, a product of Iowa State.
Burroughs’ reaction included “a little bit of angry mixed with sadness.”
There have been warning signs in the past 25 years, including the reduction of weight classes contested from 10 to seven. Competition at the Division I level in the U.S. has been reduced to 77 programs.
University of Iowa head coach Tom Brands, a 1996 gold medalist in Atlanta, spoke of some of the warning signs that existed long before Tuesday.
“First of all, I’m surprised that I’m surprised. Second of all, it’s worse than death, because you can’t control death. I feel like we could have controlled this to some degree, get ahead of it a little bit. There were warning signs in the past. We’re not going to get into that.
“We’ve got a fight. You’re motivated and you’re positive. It’s like anything else; it’s similar to some of the challenges that you faced in college wrestling over the last 30, 40 years.”
Brands’ mentor, Dan Gable, an Olympic gold medalist in 1972, called it his “worst nightmare.”
Part of the discussion, on Tuesday and every day, has been the marketability of wrestling. In the Republic of Iran and many Eastern European countries, especially those formerly a part of the Soviet Union, wrestling is among the most popular sports. Mention of wrestling in the United States, unfortunately, produces Hulk Hogan and whoever is the current talk of the televised professional wrestling circuit. “Sports as entertainment” has become a key component in the conversation, shown by the strength of the NFL, NBA, and professional golf. Golf and rugby will be a part of the Olympic program in 2016.
A former JUCO national champion and All-American at Nebraska, Rulon Gardner made world headlines with his victory against Russian legend Alexander Karelin at the 2000 Olympics.
“The Olympic movement has gone astray,” he said. “It’s moving in the direction not of history but of ratings. Is it about mainstream and money, or is it about amateur sports competing at the highest level on the world stage?”
A Russian summed up the challenges ahead.
“We need to make some drastic changes in the sport, make it more attractive, especially for TV audiences,” Mikhail Mamiashvili, a 1988 gold medalist told Reuters.
The May meeting to determine the future of wrestling at the Olympic level is scheduled for St. Petersburg, Russia.