WRESTLING DROPPED FROM THE OLYMPICS? by Robert Forster, PTWhen I first I heard the report this past week that the International Olympic Committee had voted in secrets ballots to eliminate men’s and women’s wrestling from Olympic competition in 2020, I thought for sure I had gotten it wrong. Soon, however, my phone begin to ding with texts from friends in the wrestling community (and others far removed from it) saying how astonishing this news was. Ironically I received these comments as I was boarding the plane to New Orleans to work with MMA fighters and once I landed this partisan group had moved from astonishment to out right anger. Even those who have never seen a wrestling match agreed this seemed preposterous as wrestling is an original Olympic sport and should be maintained right along side track and field. Deeper media analysis from outlets as disparate as NPR news and ESPN have since pointed out that wrestling is as big a part of mainstream culture in countries around the world as baseball is here, and its elimination is a significant attack on the athletic world in general. If they can eliminate wrestling what’s next? Wrestling is one of the most diverse sports in the world with nearly 200 nations from all continents participating in the Games and with more variety of nations winning medals than almost every other sport. This is a statistic that should make self evident that in the world of sport today, where millions of dollars are poured into programs to achieve dominance, it’s hard to match the even playing field of this one on one competitive test of strength, speed and cunning. Wrestling is an inclusive sport where everyone has a chance regardless of geography, gender or physical characteristics (there are seven weight classes in men’s Olympic wrestling and four in women’s wrestling) can participate. In this country wrestling has a strong tradition with 16 American Presidents who wrestled and it is now the 6th most popular sport in high school. In 2010-11, there were 273,732 boys competing in wrestling and it’s still growing. The number of girl high school wrestlers has gained every year since 1990, a streak of 22 straight years of growth in participation to a point where the number of girl wrestlers in high schools grew to 7,351 athletes (an impressive 19.8 percent year to increase). This made girls wrestling the fastest growing sport for high school girls in terms of percentage increase. In a sport where there is little promise of professional rewards, reaching the Olympics is every kid’s pinnacle of achievement. For me, however, this conversation is even more basic; wrestling is the first sport known to man. Even before early man picked up a rock to see how far he could throw it, and certainly before there were bats and balls, people were mixing it up to see who comes out on top. We see children at a very young age engaged in mock hand to hand combat and animals wrestle with siblings as soon as they can walk. If organized sport was created to occupy the energies of men (and now women) in times of no war, then wrestling might someday be our salvation.
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