Wrestling to be dropped from Olympics
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Even Socrates wrestled. Plato documented the philosopher wrestling at his local gym all the way into middle age. Historian H.A. Harris wrote that such a sight would have been as natural as seeing someone engaged in a round of golf or set of tennis today.
As soccer is now, wrestling was the world's sport in antiquity. Once added to the Ancient Olympics in 708 B.C., it became the most popular sport and has been featured at the modern Olympics since their inception in 1896.
Though wrestling has never been a favorite of spectators in the United States, the Olympics kept it alive on the world's biggest stage every four years, making Americans such as Rulon Gardner and Cael Sanderson prominent for their gold medals. Now that connection to the past has been severed. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee removed wrestling from the Olympics, beginning in 2020.
"To take away a piece of your history," said Olympic wrestling participant Jake Herbert, "is to take away a piece of yourself."
Mr. Herbert grew up here, wrestling at North Allegheny High School. Last summer, he represented the United States at the Olympics in London. He competed in the freestyle event, leaving without a medal but with a sense of pride.
"It's the pinnacle of our sport," he said.
The IOC was meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday when it made its decision. The committee was choosing the 25 core sports it would include for the 2020 Olympic Games and needed to eliminate one because it plans to add another later this year.
In a release, the IOC said it reviews every sport after each installment of the games so it can continue presenting the sports that remain relevant to the current generation. Kept were popular events such as swimming and athletics, as well as lesser-known events, like canoeing and modern pentathlon, which combines pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horse riding and running.
"It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
Said Mr. Herbert: "I think the IOC gets caught up in dollar signs and media and revenue, and they forget about the traditions and the passions and the world coming together."
In London, more than 40 countries featured participants in each of the three wrestling disciplines (Greco-Roman, men's freestyle and women's freestyle). Mr. Herbert stressed how wrestling was a pure, inexpensive sport, noting that two participants could officially wrestle needing only a mat for equipment.
Though the sport's biggest names were shocked, they weren't entirely devoid of reasons for why this happened. Many of them pointed to new rules implemented by the international wrestling federation, FILA, a few years ago. Rather than declare a winner based on the final score, FILA changed rules in 2004 so the first wrestler to win two of three periods was declared the winner.
Renowned University of Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said in a news conference that FILA might not have done enough politically to make sure the IOC acted in the best interest of the sport.
"Sometimes you need to look in the mirror, which I do a lot, and then you want the leadership to look in the mirror, as well," Mr. Brands said. "And that's on FILA."
Mr. Brands said he planned to call several members of the national wrestling community to discuss getting the sport back in the Olympics.
Wrestling will be added to a list of sports with karate, baseball/softball, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and Chinese martial art wushu as possibilities to be voted into the 2020 Games this fall. Only one will be chosen.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 280,384 children participated in high school wrestling in 2011-12. Nearly 10,000 participated in Pennsylvania, which has produced such other Olympic gold medalists as Kurt Angle of Mt. Lebanon High School, who won the freestyle competition in 1996.
Canon-McMillan coach Chris Mary said that even without the sport's ultimate goal, he thought high school, collegiate and world championships would be enough to continue motivating ambitious young wrestlers. Mr. Sanderson, who won his gold medal in 2004 and now coaches Penn State wrestlers, said he knows many kids in his top-rated program dream of the Olympics.
"And to think that now that's no longer an opportunity just so the IOC [can] stay fresh and continue to rotate sports and whatever their plan is," he said, "it's tough to think about."
There's a popular saying by U.S. Olympians that goes: Once an Olympian, always an Olympian. Never former, never past. Mr. Herbert would like the IOC to pay attention to that motto.
"Once an Olympic sport," Mr. Herbert said, "always an Olympic sport."
First Published February 13, 2013 12:00 am