High school coaches stunned by Olympics dropping wrestling as a sport
By: Warren Mayes
Local high school coaches agree that youngsters who dream about being an Olympian like Francis Howell graduate Sammie Henson or CBC graduate Spencer Mango are losers in the stunning move by the International Olympic Committee executive board to remove wrestling from the list of 25 “core sports” in the 2020 Summer Games program.
“This is not good for such a participant-heavy sport, like wrestling,” said Westminster Christian Academy coach Tim Muehleisen. “Kids need heroes to dream about like Olympian Sam Henson who have come from St. Louis. Not having these people would be horrible for the sport.”
Henson, now an assistant coach at Missouri, was a silver medalist at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Mango competed in the 2008 and 2012 games. Mango finished eighth in Beijing and lost in the second round in London. He plans to try to earn a spot in the 2016 games.
Wrestling is known as the world’s oldest competitive sport. It dates to cave drawings of wrestling found as far back as 3000 BC and was part of the ancient Olympics in 708 BC. When the modern Games resumed in 1896, wrestling was one of nine sports on the program.
Last May, the same IOC group will decide which of eight candidate sports, including wrestling, to recommend for inclusion on the 2020 program, which can have 28 sports. The full IOC membership then will decide which sports to approve at its annual meeting in September.
The unexpected decision was made via secret ballot during a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland where officials were discussing ways to “streamline” the Olympics.
Though many assumed modern pentathlon would get the boot, the committee instead decided to eliminate wrestling, which has roots in the ancient Greece games and has been a part of every modern Olympics since they began in 1896. The vote was completed over several rounds and the final totals were not released to the public.
Much of what happens next procedurally is unclear. The executive board could recommend one, three or no sports. The voting rules for final approval of new sports have yet to be determined.
It is improbable the IOC will reverse itself on wrestling so soon.
Baseball and softball, ousted after 2008, are making a joint bid to return. Other hopefuls are two martial arts — wushu and karate — sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and inline skating.
The IOC’s professed reason for reviewing the core sports on a regular basis is to keep the Olympics relevant.
More countries (29) won wrestling medals last summer in London than had participants in modern pentathlon (26), despite the modern pentathlon federation amping up its nation numbers by allowing mediocre athletes from several countries. Wrestling had athletes from 71 countries, in several of which — Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan — it is the unofficial national sport.
The United States is the most successful active nation, with 50 all-time gold medals and 125 overall in wrestling. The U.S. team won two gold medals in the 2012 Olympics. Russia currently dominates the sport, but wrestlers from Japan, Turkey, Finland, South Korea, Iran and Cuba have all won their country dozens of medals.
Sports that will continue to be a core sport for the Olympics include the aforementioned modern pentathlon — a goofy mix of shooting, horseback riding, fencing, running and swimming. Also still included are tae kwon do, which rarely has winners who are not from South Korea, China or the US, and cycling, which has been plagued with doping scandals.
Muehleisen is doing what he can do.
“I have already signed the petition to have the White House pressure the IOC to have it added,” Muehleisen said. “I am clueless to their rationale on choosing wrestling, I hope they understand they removed one of the oldest sports that is still competed in worldwide.
“This is tragic. I have no idea how this body works, but certainly this is the only thing that Russia, Iran, and the United States can agree on -— wrestling is the Olympics.”
Whitfield coach Charlie Sherertz said he was caught off guard by the news.
“I’ve got a sick feeling in my stomach,”Sherertz said. “I haven’t had time to wrap my head around it because of getting ready for the state tournament. You know, with wrestling, there’s no money involved. There’s no million dollar contracts. It’s a true sport. It’s really sad. I think the optimist in me thinks there might be a rallying for it and get it back.”
Lafayette coach Jonathan Sumner also said the news upset him.
“It is so disappointing to hear that they made this decision,” Sumner said. “Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the Olympics and a sport that is popular worldwide.”
CBC coach Rocky Streb said it’s to imagine an Olympic games without wrestling.
“Wrestling was in every Olympics ever held since the very first one in ancient Greece,” Streb said. “With track and field, wrestling has been the foundation for Olympic games.”
Sumner watches the competitions.
“I really do enjoy it, it is amazing to see that level of our sport, especially as a coach understanding how much time and hard work went into not only having the opportunity, but the preparation for the Olympics,” Sumner said.
Sumner is hopeful the move will be overturned.
“I am uncertain at this point,” Sumner said. “Let’s hope the Olympic committee re-thinks its decision. Wrestling is a tough sport that in my opinion has gained a little more popularity at the collegiate level than in previous eras, so I am hopeful it will continue to grow. Wrestling teaches amazing life skills that can have a positive impact in people’s lives.”
Streb said it likely will have any effect for high school grapplers.
“I don’t think it will have a negative affect at the high school level,” Streb said. “I doubt to many high school kids have that even in their mind when they decide to start wrestling.”
Perhaps the move says something about our culture today.
“It probably speaks to choices I think,” Streb said. “When you look at the sports that might make it instead of wrestling, like rock climbing, you have to think at some level, that it’s just easier. Wrestling in about sacrifice and the pain associated with that, it’s a combat sport that hurts.
“I look at what my guys go through and I honestly have to wonder why they do it. They could be home playing video games but they’re in here knocking heads with each other.”