Iowa's public figures unite for Olympic wrestling

Gov. Branstad, Dan Gable, others help create website to overturn IOC decision

DES MOINES – The war was waged and now the armies are assembling.

Some of Iowa’s top wrestling and political personalities showed their solidarity to announce their latest campaign to help wrestling remain in the Olympic Games.

Wrestling great Dan Gable, University of Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands, University of Northern Iowa head coach Doug Schwab, Iowa State assistant Travis Paulson and Governor Terry Branstad announced the launch of Friday during the Iowa High School Athletic Association state wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena.

Gable said there is a slight possibility these efforts can help overturn the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation to remove wrestling as one of its core sports. Wrestling has been a part of the modern Olympics since 1896.

“If we weren’t a huge entity, we would have no chance, but because we have people all over the world that are passionate, we’ll have a chance,” Gable said. “For better or worse, we will not stop in May or September or until we climb the ladder to where we are back in.”

The worldwide wrestling’s governing body, FILA, is attempting to reach out to the IOC and make the necessary adjustments to return to the Olympics in 2020 and beyond. Wrestling organizations have resisted collaborative efforts previously, but now their hand has been forced by threat. Groups are joining together and smaller gestures, like the website launch and petition, will feed the larger movement.

“Every little effort everywhere will be consumed by the national and international effort,” Gable said. “They are taking place right now, getting formed.”

The sport will have to undergo change, whether it is in competition or organizational structure. The wrestling world will need to come with “hat in hand” and demonstrate a willingness to improve wrestling and present the intangibles and benefits of the sport that had participants from 71 countries during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England.

“With that humble attitude (and) from these things that provide the muscle behind that,” said Brands, referring to the site. “All of a sudden, you have 30, 40 or 50 million people on a worldwide petition that comes together and this is a direct result of it.

“It’s about getting the message in front of the IOC.”

The site had generated more than 2,000 online petitions a couple hours after the launch. Schwab, a 2008 U.S. Olympic qualifier, said he thought members of the worldwide wrestling community would battle the IOC’s initial decision.

“We’re coming together,” Schwab said. “We’re uniting. There is a certain amount of respect wrestlers have for each other, and they’re coming together right now in one fight.”

Brands said he has wrestled in the Olympics in the snow, in the ocean and in his hometown of Sheldon, referring to his imagination and dreams of competing on that stage. The effort is a chance to ensure young athletes, and children in general, have a reason to dream to compete at that level.

“Think about the youth,” Brands stressed. “The way they are about to build their mentality and become great in the future.”

Branstad was asked why he became involved in the effort, and noted the state’s traditional tie to the sport.

“This is part of the fabric of Iowa,” said Branstad, mentioning some of the state’s history. “When you grow up in this state, you what an important part of the fabric of Iowa wrestling is. The ultimate is to be a Dan Gable, who went all the way to win the Olympics and led his team to all these NCAA titles.”

He noted that the reason a re-election campaign was contributing to the effort instead of the state was because it allowed for an immediate action without legal hoops. He said a large bi-partisan group has been formed to help wrestling’s cause.

The sport has a direct effect to the economy. You don’t have to look far to see the monetary impact when Johnson County hosted the 2012 Olympic Trials or when Des Moines hosts the state wrestling tournament and NCAA Division I Championships.

“It is huge,” Branstad said. “It’s a huge economic driver for our state.”

As long as that has an influence, Gable said it enhances the sport’s chances.

“Wrestling is good for the economy,” Gable said. “When you’re good for the economy, you’re going to survive.”

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