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Wrestling will survive, even without the Olympics

COMMENTARY — A sport full of tough competitors will be just fine, even if the IOC doesn't want it in the Summer Games, starting in 2020.
by Berry Tramel Published: February 12, 2013

The International Olympic Committee wants to remove wrestling from its Games, starting in 2020. And that stinks.

But I wouldn't worry too much about wrestling. Tough sport. Tough guys. Wrestling can take care of itself.

The idea that losing its Olympic status could kill the sport? Well, no chance. Wrestling survived the end of the Ancient Olympics somewhere around 400 A.D., and when the Greeks got around to hosting another Olympiad 15 centuries later, there was wrestling, ready to take part.

So the Greco-Romans and their freestyle brothers can withstand the silly minds that voted to ax wrestling while keeping solo synchronized swimming.

“Wrestling will survive,” said Southmoore senior Zac Damico. “It's a minor upset, but it's definitely the most rewarding sport, even when you win just a single match.”

The drag for wrestling is that it now has to play politics, and wrestlers never have been good politicians. They're too busy having a cup of soup for supper, trying to lose three quarters of a pound, or fending off a fireman's carry that could be the difference between victory and defeat.

The trouble with the Olympics is that all the sports let the Olympics get too big. They let the Olympics define them.

It's actually true for gymnastics and swimming and track, I suppose, but not for much of anything else. Olympic gold is valuable, but not mandatory.

And yet sports have allowed the Olympics to rule their domain. Read the words of Curt Hamakawa, director of the Center for International Sport Business at Western New England University.

“If this decision holds, it will almost single-handedly deliver a death knell to college, high school and club wrestling programs,” Hamakawa said, “because the sport will lose its Olympic media platform and will cease to produce any future Olympic wrestling role models.”

Reel it back in, Curt. Little kids don't watch the Olympics and say, hey, I want to try that. Gymnastics this isn't. Olympic wrestling is mostly on a satellite NBC channel; it's like trying to find a Sun Belt Conference basketball game on a Saturday afternoon among ESPN's myriad channels.

Now, kids who are wrestling do get fired up about the Olympics. In fact, I'd say that's a big difference from 30 years ago, when I covered a lot of wrestling and talked to a lot of wrestling people. The Olympics never came up except with the most elite collegians. The high school kids never mentioned it.

That's changed, because Olympic hype is bigger now than in previous generations.

“I think it'll harm wrestling a good amount, for the younger kids,” said Midwest City heavyweight Carlos Freeman.

“Once you get in middle school and high school, you're a little more independent. Your aspirations are winning state, winning state.”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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