When news broke yesterday morning that the leaders of International Olympic Committee had voted to drop wrestling from the Olympic Games beginning in 2020, social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook erupted in anger aimed at the committee’s decision.
USA Wrestling created a Facebook page entitled “Keep Wrestling in the Olympics” that at around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday had over 61,500 likes.
Wrestling icons Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson were in a state of shock about the decision and pledged to do anything necessary to ensure that their sport continued to be a part of the Games.
For the West Virginia University wrestling program, the decision hit particularly close to home for assistant coach Danny Felix.
“Honestly, I was in shock when I first heard it yesterday morning,” Felix said. ”But then, that shocked turned into anger.”
Felix, who competed on the United States World Team and was an Olympic alternate, couldn't help but think of how the IOC’s decision may affect the future of the sport, especially pertaining to his seven-year old son, Luca.
“I won’t lie,” Felix said. “The first thing I thought about was my own son. I thought about him not having the same opportunities to succeed in this sport as I did. He knows that his dad wrestled at a very high level. I would be very upset if that opportunity wasn’t there for him.”
Associate head coach Greg Jones echoed Felix’s statement, as he views the removal of wrestling from the Olympics as taking away the sport’s highest honor.
“For a lot of guys, wrestling in the Olympics is their No. 1 goal,” Jones said. “Now, is that realistic for each and every wrestler? No, but by taking wrestling out of the Olympics, you are robbing wrestlers of their opportunity to compete in the highest level of their sport. You will still have the World Wrestling Championships and the Pan-American Games, but this is the pinnacle of our sport.”
The decision, although very crushing for many in the wrestling community, is not final yet. The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“The wrestling community is very strong, and it is big,” Felix said. “There are a lot of individuals who are very passionate about the sport. Wrestling is obviously a very popular sport in the United States, but for other countries in the world, this is their NFL. They will not go down without a fight.”
In addition to Felix’s contributions to the United States wrestling program, former WVU assistant coach Nate Carr wrestled his way to a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
Two others individuals with a Mountaineer connection that participated in the Olympics is former assistant coach Zeke Jones and former WVU wrestler turned referee Rick Tucci.
At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Jones won a silver medal.
Tucci, who along with Carr and Jones is a distinguished member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, has officiated in four Olympic Games.
Because of these types of valuable connections and positive contributions to the WVU wrestling program, coach Craig Turnbull says that it is his hope that the IOC moves to reverse its decision.
“It will be very tough to justify removing wrestling from the Olympic Games,” Turnbull said. “Wrestling has been a sport that has been around since the ancient Olympic Games, not just the modern Olympic Games. It will be very interesting to see how everything plays out, but we are fully behind a push to have wrestling restored in the Olympics.”
For now, though, all wrestling supporters can do is continue to offer their support.
On the fence about the IOC’s decision to remove wrestling from the Olympics beginning in 2020? Here is some food for thought.
- High school participation has grown by more than 40,000 over the past decade
- 95 new college wrestling teams (at all levels) have been established since 1999
- Wrestling is the 6th most popular high school boys sport with over 272,000 participants
- There are now more than 8,200 young women who wrestle in high schools and we have 21 intercollegiate women's wrestling teams
- The 2012 NCAA DI Wrestling Championships sold an unprecedented 112,000 tickets and wrestling is among the top 5 NCAA revenue producing championships (4 consecutive sellouts)
- Wrestling is one of the original Olympic sports and has been included in all but one Olympic competition since 1896. Only four other sports – track and field, cycling, gymnastics and swimming – have been in more Games
- Wrestling is one of the most diverse sports in the world, with nearly 200 nations from all continents participating in the sport
- Wrestling is an inclusive sport, which provides opportunities worldwide, regardless of geography, race, gender or physical characteristics.
- Among Olympic sports, wrestling has more variety of nations which win Olympic medals than almost every other sport. Wrestling is popular all around the world, and many nations have successful athletes and programs in the sport.
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