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Bryce Miller: Why the decision to drop Olympics wrestling is absurd

[ 0 ] February 12, 2013 |

To truly understand the import of wrestling around the world, members of the International Olympic Committee should be forced to explain Tuesday’s astonishing and unthinkable vote to drop the sport from the 2020 Games in person.

Tell them in Iran, Iraq and Turkey, where it’s the World Series and Super Bowl wrapped into one.

Tell them in the training camps high in the snow-capped mountains of Russia, home of international superstar Alexander Karelin.

Tell them in Japan. Finland. Hungary. Deliver the message to global hot-beds so vast and varied that it could fill weeks of Olympic TV coverage with singlet-soaked Benetton commercials.

Tell them in Iowa, where the most popular high school wrestling tournament in the nation whets appetites this week for the upcoming NCAA Championships in Des Moines — a ticket so coveted each and every one sold out in less than 15 minutes.

Tell them one other thing, too: The group just made one of the most impossibly absurd and out of touch mistakes in the history of the world’s most meaningful sports gathering.

Photos: Big names in wrestling react to the news

For starters, they’ve got former gold medalist Dan Gable worked up.

That, most times — as wrestlers in the 1960s and ’70s, and college coaches in the ’80s and ’90s can attest — leads to a loss.

“The thing is, because of wrestling, I have a mindset that is strong. Exceptionally strong,” said Gable, a national champion at Iowa State and record-setting coach at Iowa who recorded one of the most dominant Olympic performances in history — regardless of sport — when he won a freestyle wrestling gold medal in 1972 without surrendering a single point.

“I don’t believe in the four-letter word ‘quit.’ I don’t believe in the four-letter word ‘can’t.’ Right now, I’m not going to change because I see an initial vote. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to fight.”

Videos: Dan Gable talks grandkids, Country Music tears; Ironside holds out hope

This will go far, far beyond isolated pockets of reaction. Ire and angst will stretch across the miles and into the millions — uniting factions of all shapes, colors and ZIP codes.

Wrestling’s Olympic roots run as deep as any other sport, stretching to the ancient games. It was one of the sports contested at the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece — in 1896, as in 1-8.

Sports such as beach volleyball, table tennis, field hockey and modern pentathlon remain in the mix for the Olympics, but not a substantial bedrock like wrestling? As a friend of mine said Tuesday, “Hercules must be rolling over in his Greek grave.”

This is an assault on the core of the Games themselves, at a time when memories run too short and traditions flounder too un-cherished. Ask yourself: Would the IOC consider, for even the time it takes Usain Bolt to exit the starting blocks, cutting wrestling’s age-old Olympic cousins like track or boxing?

The blow-back of the initial vote will be immediate, loud and sustained.

The real question: Will the IOC cave or care?

Reversing and changing course of the governing body is a little like trying to turn around a battleship in a bathtub. Most times, well, good luck. This time, though, the IOC surely has underestimated the reach, impact and advocates hunched in wait.

Another IOC meeting is scheduled for May and the final vote on the 26 sports allowed into the 2020 Games will happen during a September general assembly meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Will the noise and relentless lobbying give the pressed-suit heads of the organization cauliflower ear by then?

Cael Sanderson, the first unbeaten four-time champ in NCAA history while at Iowa State, won Olympic gold during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Sanderson, coach of two-time, defending title-owners Penn State, hopes the din rattles well-heeled skulls.

The stakes for those in the sport are too high and the impact too profound.

“This is every wrestlers’ dream. … It’s like the World Cup of soccer. It’s the greatest event. It’s the most prestigious and premiere. It’s the very top of the pyramid. It’s the Super Bowl,” Sanderson told USA TODAY Sports. “… Just the thought is definitely a tragedy. But I think wrestling is very strong worldwide, and we’re going to find out just how strong.”

The sport is the dictionary definition of amateur athletics, where triumph and toil come with few dollars for too few — in a world of arenas packed with too many detached, high-dollar celebrities. Wrestling requires an unequaled mix of physical and mental discipline, a balance of strength and weight control that taxes and tests both body and mind.

Wrestling has its international warts. Rules are far too confusing, complex, subjective and fluid to grow wide-spread following for many — and it only has itself to blame for that.

In one, globe-rattling swoop, though, the IOC has banded together an extraordinary group in common cause, a collection of people trained to win, at all costs, no matter what.

So, IOC members want to ax Olympic wrestling?

The sport has something to tell them, too: Good luck.

Bryce Miller can be reached at (515) 284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

 

To truly understand the import of wrestling around the world, members of the International Olympic Committee should be forced to explain Tuesday’s astonishing and unthinkable vote to drop the sport from the 2020 Games in person.

Tell them in Iran, Iraq and Turkey, where it’s the World Series and Super Bowl wrapped into one.

Tell them in the training camps high in the snow-capped mountains of Russia, home of international superstar Alexander Karelin.

Tell them in Japan. Finland. Hungary. Deliver the message to global hot-beds so vast and varied that it could fill weeks of Olympic TV coverage with singlet-soaked Benetton commercials.

Tell them in Iowa, where the most popular high school wrestling tournament in the nation whets appetites this week for the upcoming NCAA Championships in Des Moines — a ticket so coveted each and every one sold out in less than 15 minutes.

Tell them one other thing, too: The group just made one of the most impossibly absurd and out of touch mistakes in the history of the world’s most meaningful sports gathering.

Photos: Big names in wrestling react to the news

For starters, they’ve got former gold medalist Dan Gable worked up.

That, most times — as wrestlers in the 1960s and ’70s, and college coaches in the ’80s and ’90s can attest — leads to a loss.

“The thing is, because of wrestling, I have a mindset that is strong. Exceptionally strong,” said Gable, a national champion at Iowa State and record-setting coach at Iowa who recorded one of the most dominant Olympic performances in history — regardless of sport — when he won a freestyle wrestling gold medal in 1972 without surrendering a single point.

“I don’t believe in the four-letter word ‘quit.’ I don’t believe in the four-letter word ‘can’t.’ Right now, I’m not going to change because I see an initial vote. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to fight.”

This will go far, far beyond isolated pockets of reaction. Ire and angst will stretch across the miles and into the millions — uniting factions of all shapes, colors and ZIP codes.

Wrestling’s Olympic roots run as deep as any other sport, stretching to the ancient games. It was one of the sports contested at the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece — in 1896, as in 1-8.

Sports such as beach volleyball, table tennis, field hockey and modern pentathlon remain in the mix for the Olympics, but not a substantial bedrock like wrestling? As a friend of mine said Tuesday, “Hercules must be rolling over in his Greek grave.”

This is an assault on the core of the Games themselves, at a time when memories run too short and traditions flounder too un-cherished. Ask yourself: Would the IOC consider, for even the time it takes Usain Bolt to exit the starting blocks, cutting wrestling’s age-old Olympic cousins like track or boxing?

The blow-back of the initial vote will be immediate, loud and sustained.

The real question: Will the IOC cave or care?

Reversing and changing course of the governing body is a little like trying to turn around a battleship in a bathtub. Most times, well, good luck. This time, though, the IOC surely has underestimated the reach, impact and advocates hunched in wait.

Another IOC meeting is scheduled for May and the final vote on the 26 sports allowed into the 2020 Games will happen during a September general assembly meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Will the noise and relentless lobbying give the pressed-suit heads of the organization cauliflower ear by then?

Cael Sanderson, the first unbeaten four-time champ in NCAA history while at Iowa State, won Olympic gold during the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Sanderson, coach of two-time, defending title-owners Penn State, hopes the din rattles well-heeled skulls.

The stakes for those in the sport are too high and the impact too profound.

“This is every wrestlers’ dream. … It’s like the World Cup of soccer. It’s the greatest event. It’s the most prestigious and premiere. It’s the very top of the pyramid. It’s the Super Bowl,” Sanderson told USA TODAY Sports. “… Just the thought is definitely a tragedy. But I think wrestling is very strong worldwide, and we’re going to find out just how strong.”

The sport is the dictionary definition of amateur athletics, where triumph and toil come with few dollars for too few — in a world of arenas packed with too many detached, high-dollar celebrities. Wrestling requires an unequaled mix of physical and mental discipline, a balance of strength and weight control that taxes and tests both body and mind.

Wrestling has its international warts. Rules are far too confusing, complex, subjective and fluid to grow wide-spread following for many — and it only has itself to blame for that.

In one, globe-rattling swoop, though, the IOC has banded together an extraordinary group in common cause, a collection of people trained to win, at all costs, no matter what.

So, IOC members want to ax Olympic wrestling?

The sport has something to tell them, too: Good luck.

Bryce Miller can be reached at (515) 284-8288 or brmiller@dmreg.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller

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