One of the oldest Olympic sports was put on life support Tuesday, when the International Olympic Committee announced plans to drop wrestling after the 2016 games.
The decision from secret ballot by the IOC’s 15-member executive board at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, was unexpected. The result of the vote was not made available, and the IOC did not give a reason why wrestling was selected.
The move stunned the wrestling community.
“Shocked would be the word I would use,” said Tommy Prairie, Washington & Jefferson College’s head coach. “I never thought they would drop wrestling. … There is one form of wrestling in every culture in the world.”
The decision could be reversed on appeal in May, but it appears that will not happen considering yesterday’s action by the IOC. A final decision will be made in September.
This area just celebrated the achievements of Coleman Scott in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Scott, a three-time PIAA champion at Waynesburg High School and a national champion at Oklahoma State University, won a bronze medal in 60k freestyle and plans on competing in the 2016 games.
Scott was competing in a World Team tournament in Iran and unavailable for comment. He did tweet, “Wrestling has a lot to do with who I am today!” and posted a hashtag #saveolympicwrestling on his Twitter account.
“It stinks,” said Ron Headlee, head coach at Waynesburg University. “I’m in shock; a lot of people are. We were blind-sided by this. I didn’t even know it was being considered. … Everyone’s kid’s goal is to be an Olympic champion. A lot of people are starting petitions, and I’ll try to help save it in any way I can.”
Prairie said the sport of wrestling is unique because it offers so many different competition levels.
“In the last Olympics, there were … 70 different countries competing,” he said. “There are different weights and different styles. Small countries aren’t as successful in other sports, but they can be in wrestling. It’s hard to take something away that has been around as long as this overnight.”
Reaction around the country was swift and overwhelmingly critical of the IOC decision.
Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson asked his followers on Twitter to “flood IOC Executive Members with POSITIVE letters on why wrestling should be a part of Olympics” and provided the executive committee members and their e-mail addresses.
“It’s worse than death,” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands tweeted.
Dan Gable, one of the most recognized names in the sport, vowed to fight the IOC decision.
“The thing is, because of wrestling, I have a mindset that is strong. Exceptionally strong,” Gable told the Des Moines Register. “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.”
Even national figures not affiliated with the sport stood in its defense.
“Are you telling me that rhythmic gymnastics remains, but wrestling, one of the oldest Olympic sports, is out? That’s crazy!” tweeted Tony Kornheiser, co-host of Pardon The Interruption.
Olympic wrestling dates back to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens and can be traced back to ancient Greece. Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at the 2012 London Olympics.
“I don’t know how you take away a sport, where it all started with wrestling,” said Headlee. “It stands for one of the Olympic ideals in the work ethic. You train hard. Not many people train as hard as those who train to wrestle. That’s what the Olympics are all about. These people sacrifice as much as any other sport.”