Wrestling: 'Unbelievable' decision by IOC
UPDATED with new story, additional reaction from Brands, Sanderson, Jackson and Banach
CEDAR RAPIDS — The International Olympic Committee “crushed the dreams of thousands of young men and women” Tuesday.
That’s was part of Mike Duroe’s reaction to the IOC’s decision to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic Games starting in 2020.
The IOC’s decision is a recommendation that will be voted on at an IOC session in September, but reprieves in these situations are unlikely.
“It means wrestling’s going the same way as baseball and softball,” said Olympic historian Tom Ecker of Cedar Rapids, adding he’s “never heard anything like this before” when a “core” sport is eliminated.
Wrestling was contested in the first modern Olympics in 1896 and has roots dating to 708 BC.
“I’m really amazed,” Ecker said. “But it shows nothing is sacred.”
Duroe said wrestling has worldwide appeal and it will take that community to save the sport and possibly get it reinstated at the Olympics.
“I’m just really amazed they didn’t see or recognize the worldwide popularity of the sport,” said Duroe, coach at Cornell College who has extensive international experience. “There’s going to be some fighting back. There could be enough fallout.
“I’m hoping the wrestling community worldwide will come together and come up with a ‘no way.’”
Duroe has been part of coaching staffs at the past four Olympics and was head coach of Guam’s freestyle team in 2008. He said wrestling is a popular sport at the Games but isn’t as appealing to the millions who watch the Games on television.
“It’s about marketability and TV,” he said.
Ecker said too many sports have been added over the years and something had to go.
“I know they’ve added some things I think are ridiculous,” he said. “But I think they are taking sports they think will draw the biggest crowds.”
Duroe blamed FILA, the sport’s international governing body, for not doing enough to help wrestling. He said sports like modern pentathlon, which made the cut, lobbied hard to survive.
“I don’t think the international federation has played the political game with the IOC,” he said. “FILA, obviously, has done a poor job of PR.”
Former Iowa NCAA champ and 1984 Olympic gold medal winner Ed Banach agreed.
“The first thing is, ‘Wait a minute. This is the Olympics. Wrestling, the Olympics go hand in hand,’” he said. “But then as I started thinking about FILA, I think they took it for granted — that wrestling wasn’t going to be cut, so they didn’t send a representative as I read through the information.
“I think the pushback that the IOC is going to receive based on the support of wrestling internationally, they’re going to be overwhelmed.”
But sports seldom get a second chance once the IOC has ruled.
“I’m sure we’ve just begun to fight, but to be out in this situation to have to fight for a sport that’s traditionally strong, historically strong and has been a part of the modern Olympic Games since 1896, it’s disturbing to say the least,” Iowa State coach Kevin Jackson said.
The reaction from local wrestling circles was predictable and social media was abuzz, littered with words like “unbelievable” and “devastating.”
“Wrestling and the Olympics go hand in hand,” Penn State coach Cael Sanderson told Reuters. Sanderson was a four-time NCAA champ at Iowa State and a 2004 Olympic gold medalist.
“When you start taking the original sports away from the Olympics, you really change what the Olympic Games are.”
Former Iowa wrestling coach and 1972 Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable told USA Today the decision “obviously is one of my worst nightmares.”
"My daughter called me and it broke me up,” he said later in an interview with KCRG. “She’s got a 9-year-old son who wants to be a champion and he might never get that opportunity.”
“Obviously, any news like this is devastating,” said Jackson, a 1992 Olympic champ.
“I’m gravely disappointed that the IOC would move to eliminate the oldest sport in the Games,” Duroe said.
Gazette correspondent Rob Gray contributed to this report.
MORE REACTION (from the cutting room floor and Gazette wires)
"I've known for a while wrestling had some issues and the IOC had some issues with wrestling. They thought wrestling (three styles) was too much.
"It's a popular sport is so many countries.
"The prestige of an Olympic championship, of winning an Olympic medal is so strong ... that's our pros ... that's our professional league.
Ed Banach, 1984 Olympic Gold medalist
"The first thing is, 'Wait a minute. This is the Olympics. Wrestling, the Olympics go hand in hand.' You think of wrestling, you think of track and field, those are the sports that really started the Olympic movement way back in the Greek era. But then as I started thinking about FILA, I think they took it for granted — that wrestling wasn't going to be cut, so they didn't send a representative as I read through the information. And it's not final. There's another meeting in May in St. Petersburg, Russia. And there's another one, finally, in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September. So we'll find out for sure at that time, but you've got to think, over 200 countries wrestle. Everybody wrestles, for crying out loud. And I think the pushback that the IOC is going to receive based on the support of wrestling internationally, they're going to be overwhelmed. I think they're to have to change it because of the pushback they receive. That's my opinion right now. It may not be valid, but I think that's what's going to happen. Now if it doesn't happen, I think there's going to be a backlash on college wrestling and high school wrestling across the United States."
WILL IT HURT NUMBERS?
"We'll see. Again, I don't think this is going to be final. Think about the countries that support wrestling: Russia — they're just phenomenal in wrestling. The Middle East, Iran — phenomenal wrestlers. Cuba. South America. Central America. North America — Canada, the United States, Mexico. European countries. All the European countries that have wrestling. Wrestling is going to be supported by these countries and the IOC is going to have to change their mind. That's my gut feeling."
"I think FILA needs to go before the IOC and say, 'Wait a minute. Do you realize what you're doing here? The Olympics were founded on (wrestling). I was reading earlier today about the history of wrestling and one of the final events that they did was wrestle to determine the winner of the first Olympic games. It was integral to the Olympic movement. So why would you take wrestling out?"
"Every family, two kids get together, they wrestle. You can go on Youtube and see the Schwab little boys wrestling. It's hilarious. For the IOC to drop wrestling, yeah it makes a splash, but I think they're going to regret that decision and they're going to make a change in the next couple months."
Iowa State Coach Kevin Jackson
“Obviously, any news like this is devastating,” Jackson said. “I’m sure we’ve just begun to fight, but to be out in this situation to have to fight for a sport that’s traditionally strong, historically strong and has been a part of the modern Olympic games since 1896, it’s disturbing to say the least.”
WHY (AND MORE)?
“Obviously, I’ve been away from USA Wrestling for awhile. But you’d expect that we would be ahead of the game, be ahead of this fight. But as you read all the articles that have come out, it seems like it was a surprise to everyone. So when you’re talking about closed-door voting, voting that was done by ballots that you’re not able to identify who voted for what, you don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but it’s very disappointing based on what the Olympics are all about when you really think about it. I’m not just talking about it from a United States standpoint, but I’m talking about from a worldwide standpoint. You look at a lot of kids from around the world, when you’re talking Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia — kids that see their only way out of poverty, sometimes, is a sport like wrestling. You look at the criteria that they say they based their decision on. One of the reasons was television ratings. Now, you know like I know, we’re going to watch anything that NBC puts on. If they put on two guys rolling marbles, we’re going to watch that if a gold medal’s on it. That’s NBC’s job to put on proper programming. However, you talk about ticket sales. We have always sold out our venue at the Olympic games. It’s one of the hardest tickets on the Olympic docket. You talk about doping and control and those type of things and when you look at wrestling, considering some of the other sports, there probably would have been some other sports that you could look at as far as your doping policies. Participation and popularity. You look at how many medals we hand out based on the number of athletes we have in our sport. I guarantee you, and you’ll have to check me on it, that we hand out more medals to more countries to more individuals than any other sport. So I think you really have to look at what they’re basing that decision on. And like I said, it’s a little bit disturbing.”
HOW TO CHANGE?
“It’s happening right now. I know that USA Wrestling, if they haven’t done so already, I’m expecting a release to come out any minute now. I was just on the phone with the executive director, so we’re looking forward to seeing what our leaders of the sport are proposing. And it’s not just about the United States ... you’re talking several countries where it’s their No. 1 sport. When I watched the Olympics this year — and again, you/ll have to check my numbers, but I’m pretty confident that there were more wrestlers carrying country flags than any other sport. So, like I said, I’m a little bit disturbed and a little bit confused when you consider wrestling being dropped — and obviously we have May, when a final vote’s going to tallied and then they’re going to have the final decision in September. When you talk about some of these other sports — and I’m not downplaying any sport, but obviously we feel strongly about wrestling, and there’s a little bit of confusion and some questions regarding the true Olympic spirit of making a decision like this.”
“I heard (ISU 197-pounder) Kyven Gadson this morning — who has aspirations of being an Olympian, an Olympic champion — pointing towards 2020. But obviously 2016’s right around the corner and he just says he’s going to have to get it done in 2016. It affects us. But it doesn’t affect us immediately because, like I said, there are some things we have to do as a country, there’s some hoops that we still have to jump through and as a wrestling community, as a wrestling person, there’s no way we’re giving up on this thing because we know that we’re in the right as far as wrestling’s inclusion in the Olympic games.”
WHAT DID DREAM MEAN TO HIM AND WHAT MEAN TO OTHERS NOW?
“It means a lot. You have to have something to aspire to. You have to be able to look at someone that has accomplished something that you want to accomplish, so it can drive you, it can fuel you, that you can have a goal and something to work for. So to have a strong Olympic team, to have the Olympic games, to have wrestling at the very highest level, it inspires our youth. It inspires our kids to strive to take that next step.”
Cael Sanderson, former ISU national champ and Penn State coach (to Reuters)
"Wrestling and the Olympics go hand-in-hand. When you start taking the original sports away from the Olympics, you really change what the Olympic Games are. What are you going to do next, change the name of the Olympics?"
"It was a marquee event in the early Games in Greece. And now you're talking about taking it out of the Games.
"Wrestling is really the epitome of sports in general. It's a combination of mental toughness, stamina, strength and athleticism. It's just a well-rounded sport. It's one-on-one.
"When I think of the Olympics - and I'm a little biased - but wrestling comes right to mind."
"We've got to make sure that the IOC knows that they're making a mistake in trying to eliminate wrestling. I'm very optimistic that they will see that. I'm sure they'll see the uproar that's going on. I'm not so much shocked as I am saddened. Dropping wrestling from the Olympics - are you kidding me? That's crazy."
"It's what kids dream of. They dream of being an NCAA champion as well. But you want to be an Olympic champion. As soon as I knew that the Olympics were, I knew that's what I wanted to do.
"Kids in football dream about catching the winning touchdown or winning the Super Bowl. That's what the Olympic Games are in wrestling."
Tom Brands, Iowa wrestling coach and 1996 Olympic champion
Well, here's the thing: First of all, I'm surprised that I'm surprised. Second of all, it's worse than death, because you can't control death. I feel like we could have controlled this to some degree, get ahead of it a little bit. There were warning signs in the past. We're not going to get into that.
I think, talking to some coaches around the country, John Smith said it best: You're going to fight. And this country is going to get it done because I think there's 10 international Olympic sponsors, I think, and six of them are United States based. Does that mean it's automatic? No. But maybe that's a starting point.
You know, there's a lot of things that go through your head, and anger is probably one of them, but that doesn't get anything done, so what you do is you gather information. Mike Novogratz was a team leader for the freestyle team the last four years, last eight years, been very involved, and his response was on par with John Smith, and that's fight, but do it the right way.
You have to get people behind you, you have to do it smart, you have to do it educated, you have to do it professionally, and you have to do it with some muscle, as well.
So that's where we're at. I think some things in the past that you talk about, you say, well, what are those things, we don't have to really go there, but for sure the rule changes. The rule changes need to it needs to retain its originality, and I'm not sure it went more original with the rule changes. I think it went more to something that's similar to like judo. And we need to get ahead of that and lead as a country, and Russia and Iran
and other wrestling strong nations do the same, because I can tell you right now when those rule changes went down, I don't know if there was one country that liked the rule changes. There was a lot of grumbling maybe but nothing that was really said because maybe you're worried about politics. But I don't know anybody that was feeling good about the rule changes.So we've got a fight on our hands. We've got a fight. You're motivated and you're positive. It's like anything else; it's similar to some of the challenges that you faced in college wrestling over the last 30, 40 years. Just got to move forward. We've got good people, too. Got to get those good people in front of the right people.