Olympic wrestling: Tradition and ideals take a fall

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2013 - 8:59 PM
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Known as the flying squirel, Ellis Coleman does a flip after clinching a spot on the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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It's hard to imagine a sport that embodies the Olympic ideal more than wrestling. Uniquely combining strength and grace, wrestling requires years of dedication with little hope of fame or remuneration. The Olympics' every-four-years spotlight is one of the few venues where wrestlers get the recognition they and their underappreciated sport deserve.

But thanks to a shallow, shortsighted decision by the executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), wrestlers will soon no longer compete in the summer Olympic Games. On Tuesday came word that the IOC board has voted to drop the sport -- one of the originals in the first modern Olympics in 1896 -- from the 2020 Games.

Although it's not clear why the board needed to winnow one of its "core sports," wrestling was one of several sports whose future the board weighed in rounds of secret balloting.

That wrestling lost out to the modern pentathlon and Taekwondo is puzzling. Can anyone name the five sports in the modern pentathlon? Not likely. Even more bewildering is the list of sports whose Olympic future wasn't up for consideration: table tennis, badminton, sailing and canoeing/kayaking. There's room in the Olympics for all these competitions, but their continued inclusion while wrestling is cut is an outrage.

Reaction predictably focused on young wrestlers' dashed Olympic dreams and the blow to the sport itself. In Minnesota, the decision will sting especially hard. The Midwest is home to college wrestling powerhouses and one of the rare wrestlers -- Dan Gable -- who has become a household name. Thousands of Minnesota kids are vying to become the sport's future champions. The Northland Youth Wrestling Association said Tuesday it has about 4,500 Minnesota kids involved at the kindergarten through eighth-grade levels. Imagine all the crestfallen young faces at upcoming practices and tournaments.

But the IOC is the real loser. TV viewership and ticket sales appear to have been a factor in the board's decision. The Games' international leaders should have worked harder to promote one of the Olympics' oldest sports. Instead they apparently put a priority on ratings and revenue.

But myriad "extreme" sports competitions already do just that. The world doesn't need yet another X Games showcasing the latest trendy competition and its energy-drink sponsors. What puts the Olympics on a different plane altogether is that the Games are both a link to a storied past and a reminder of ideals we want to carry into the future -- concepts represented by the flame whose appearance is the highlight of each opening ceremony.

The board's thoughtless decision to shunt wrestling aside doesn't raise the question of what's wrong with wrestling. Instead, it leads us to ask: "What's wrong with the IOC?"

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Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

 

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