Wrestling Community Stunned

By Justin Giedroc

March 8, 2013

The entire wrestling community experienced a wave of disbelief shortly after the International Olympic Committee voted to drop wrestling from the 2020 Summer Olympics. The decision was completed on February 12, in the form of a secret ballot over four rounds of voting from 14 IOC members.

The shock resonated throughout the Lock Haven wrestling community. Former 12-year Lock Haven head wrestling coach and current Lock Haven Interim Athletic Director Carl Poff stated, “Wrestling has never been on the radar screen as far as a sport that might have been on the agenda to be dropped. So, yeah, it totally caught me off guard and especially since it was one of the original sports and there’s already been some compromise with wrestling.”

Indeed, there has been some compromise with wrestling. At the Olympic level, there used to be ten freestyle weights and ten Greco-Roman weights. When women’s wrestling was added in 2004 to the Olympic Games, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling were reduced to seven weight classes apiece.

From former to current Lock Haven wrestling coach, the decision announced in Switzerland has left everyone astonished. Head Coach Robbie Waller expressed his thoughts when exclaiming his disbelief, “I was stunned to say the least, given wrestling’s long-standing history in the Olympics and its importance to the games itself.”

After the drastic cuts and devastating losses to wrestling in the United States across the collegiate levels in the last thirty years, is wrestling facing a dire situation? Since 1982, 147 Division One wrestling programs have disappeared from competition, leaving only 78 competing D-I programs in the United States. It appears that if the IOC were to go through with the move of cutting wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games, it would be devastating to the sport at all levels.

The head coach of the women’s wrestling program at Lock Haven, Terry Fike, stated similar views about the impact it would have on women’s wrestling. However, he admitted that, “in fact, it may be a little more devastating.” At the collegiate level, women primarily focus on international competitions that consist of either freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling (the two forms of Olympic wrestling), so the impact definitely could be more negative for the women’s side.

Poff said it best, “That’s the bottom line. The sport has taken a hit.  On the other side of it is a lot of schools that have kept it and have said that the reason they have kept it is because it is a training ground for future Olympians.  You know that’s the pinnacle of our sport is to be able to make an Olympic team.  Some schools might use that as a reason to drop the sport if we’re not training for that optimal goal anymore.”

Some schools have kept wrestling through tough financial situations and pending lawsuits against their programs simply because their collegiate program or nearby wrestling club serves as a training ground for Olympic hopefuls.

Now that Olympic wrestling will be out of the picture, it might be tough to convince a few athletic directors in tough situations to keep the sport at the University.

POSSIBLE CUT? PART TWO NEXT WEEK? NEED PART TWO INTRO FOR CONTINUITY

However dire the circumstances might be, wrestling still has a chance to fight back and earn re-entrance to the 2020 Olympic Games.  Despite the recommendation to drop wrestling, it will have the chance to join seven other sports for a single opening to the 2020 Summer Games.  The other sports that would be competing for the final spot consist of a combined bid of softball and baseball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, and wushu.

It is up to world of wrestling to come together as one and put forth their best bid for readmission to the 2020 Olympics.

Despite seeing wrestling being taken down first, Lock Haven Head Coach Robbie Waller is looking forward to the future, “I am eternally optimistic, and I think that [USA Wrestling] is working hard in alliance with other countries to make sure that wrestling gets a strong consideration to be put back as one of the core sports.”

Lock Haven women’s wrestling head coach Terry Fike shares Waller’s extreme enthusiasm and optimism for wrestling getting back into the Olympic Games. “This is probably going to draw people together and rally everybody in a way that wrestling hasn’t been drawn together before.”

Already, we have seen many important people and groups all across the wrestling world speak up and spread the word to save Olympic Wrestling. Fike goes on to take an interesting spin on the matter, “This may actually end up being a good thing. Wrestling isn’t going anywhere; it precedes written history. It’s practiced in every country and every culture, everyone has their own style.”

The positive spin on the matter and extreme optimism from the two head coaches in Lock Haven is definitely a good thing, as it reminds the wrestling community that they are down but not out. Interim Athletic Director Carl Poff goes on to explain the wrestling mentality, “I know it caught the wrestling community totally off guard. But the wrestling community worldwide is very resilient and they’re fighters. They will not go down without a significant fight.”

So there is no doubting the wrestlers’ optimism, but that does not guarantee that the International Olympic Committee will go against their decision in the final vote in September.  What does wrestling have to do as whole to move forward? Waller says it best, “I think wrestling needs to continue to grow and that’s something that I believe will continue to take place.”

High school participation has grown by over 40,000 and has had a net gain of 49 programs at all college levels in the last thirteen years.  Wrestling has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade despite the adversity it has faced and Fike shares Waller’s views on the matter. “By radically increasing our numbers, by adding women, that’s only going to help our sport.  And I think that’s a factor with the IOC,” Fike said.

Will wrestling be able to survive its latest blow? The answer to that question will not be answered until the IOC reconvenes for a final vote on the inclusion of the last sport in September of this year. Fike reiterates his view that wrestling will still be alright in the end. “Wrestling itself is fine. As long as people compete anywhere, there’s going to be wrestling, so the sport itself is fine. I just think we need to expand opportunities,” Fike said.

Wrestling and Olympic fans need to remember that wrestling still competes annually for awards at the international level. There is still blood, sweat, and tears on the mats every year when countries and wrestlers battle for the top spot in the world. Fike goes on to say that, “There’s still going to be world championships and wrestling is universal and extremely popular around the world. So that international level of competition will always be there and world championships will always be there.”

Wrestling has been taken down and received a devastating blow by being recommended to be dropped from the 2020 Olympics. Facing adversity and trouble, can wrestling get off the bottom and escape trouble? We won’t know the answer until September.

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