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Olympics puts ancient sport into headlock
Oh, what Olympic wrestling was in the year 2000.
Sweat trickled from American Rulon Gardner’s head while he used his entire heavyweight frame to fend off the greatest Greco-Roman style wrestler of all time, Aleksandr Karelin. Gardner eventually spoiled the Russian’s perfect Olympic record, creating one of wrestling’s greatest moments. Sadly, it may have been the last one.
While the scene of a 265-pound man dancing in the arms of coaches doesn’t stack up to the nostalgia of something like the “Miracle on Ice,” Gardner’s victory over Karelin in the 2000 Sydney Olympics is one of the most stunning upsets the games ever hosted.
But the intensity of wrestling can be tough to watch, and apparently the International Olympic Committee couldn’t take it anymore, deciding last week to axe the wrestling competitions for the 2020 Olympics — potentially ruining the 20th anniversary of Gardner’s triumph.
The IOC has made no mention as to why the sport is being ousted. IOC spokesman Mark Adams said “It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”
While the ban certainly will have a negative impact on Gardner’s summer vacation, the decision is already receiving some heavy backlash from countries that count wrestling as one of their favorite pastimes.
Hulking men capable of slamming rivals to the ground don’t seem like the kind of people I would deem unimportant. But when you have a chance to feature other sports like water polo, golf, rugby and the pentathlon — a bunch of people running, swimming, riding horses, shooting pistols and fencing — you kind of have to. Right?
Well, not quite. Wrestling was featured in the first modern Olympic games in 1896. Historically speaking, no sport except for maybe running has the track record of wrestling in Olympic lore.
In the 2012 London Olympics, 344 wrestlers competed for 71 countries in 18 medal events. The United States finished fifth overall with two gold medals as powerhouse Russia captured four, finishing first.
This IOC decision has caused a stir here in the U.S., so much so that we’ve had to band together with political rivals like Russia and Iran just to keep the sport’s head above water.
The Olympic games ridding itself of wrestling would be a horrible decision for American athletes. If the IOC got rid of swimming events, people looking up to Michael Phelps would have no way to test themselves against his records, for example.
Who will future high school wrestlers look up to? Featuring no 2020 Olympians will lead the sport into irrelevancy, leaving young competitors with a lack of aspirations to push records forward.
According to a report by Examiner.com, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has about 6,000 men participating in 223 intercollegiate wrestling programs, offering more than 1,000 scholarships. That’s a lot of dudes working hard who face having their dreams of medals extinguished.
Worse still, the decision could have a trickle-down effect causing colleges to abolish programs and scholarships, leaving talented high school athletes with fewer choices on which institution to attend.
More than 265,000 men and women wrestle in 49 states, but will young people even want to participate knowing that there’s no wrestling after college besides an occasional international tournament? I know I wouldn’t.
Wrestling is not dead yet though, as the sport has one more chance at applying for a spot in the 2020 games.
Fans and competitors still have the 2016 games in Brazil, but after getting blacklisted, it’s a tough road back. Just ask women’s softball, which hasn’t appeared since 2008. Let’s just say that future appearances aren’t imminent.
If this doesn’t get fixed, collegiate wrestlers will be forced to either pick up the gloves and fight for another combat sport, or maybe just learn some new moves, get a flashy costume and start participating in that other popular form of “wrestling.”
Who knows, maybe Zeus himself will strike the committee with a thunderbolt from the heavens for getting rid of this ancient tradition.
T. S. Johnson is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.