Side-by-side, long past their athletic primes, three examples of USA Wrestling's glory days were on full display Thursday.
Speaking as part of a leadership luncheon at the Jim Thorpe Museum, Wayne Wells, Danny Hodge and Wayne Baughman reminisced on past exploits, ranging from their legendary status at Oklahoma to their highly successful runs through the Olympics.
It was a brief reminder of the dominance displayed by not only these three, but the entire American wrestling program back in the sport's heyday, highlighted by 13 medals, nine of them gold, in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
But those days are gone.
In the 2008 Beijing Games, USA Wrestling managed only three medals (one gold), producing the lowest output since 1980, when the Americans boycotted the Moscow Games.
“I'm an old man, so I may be a pessimist,” Baughman said. “But I know that I lived through the best of times, as far as wrestling is concerned.”
Overall, Baughman said the recent wrestling dip can be traced back to the high school level.
“Wrestling is a tough sport, and as our society gets softer, in my opinion, there are less people willing to pay the price,” Baughman said. “Here in Oklahoma, the quality of high school wrestling has just plummeted. We were number one for years and now we'll be lucky to be in the middle.”
But where the sport has suffered the most is at the college level.
Since 1972, spanning all college divisions, 662 wrestling programs have been dropped. Many of those were deemed expendable with the passing of Title IX, a law that pushes for equal representation of male and female athletes at universities.