Wrestling and the Olympics: 'A lot of dreams were crushed today'
Former Oklahoma wrestler Sam Hazewinkel summed up the feelings of many after the International Olympic Committee announced wrestling is losing its spot in the Summer Games in 2020.
The International Olympic Committee's announcement Tuesday that it will drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games shocked the wrestling world.
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“I don't think anybody had any idea this was coming,” said Wayne Baughman, former University of Oklahoma and Olympic wrestler and Air Force coach. “We were blindsided.”
Reaction ranged from outrage to disbelief to predictions that it would lead to the death of the sport in some places around the globe.
“If the Olympic committee stays on this attitude, for sure wrestling is killed in France,” said Phillipe Vidal, who is the team leader of a French wrestling squad currently training in Norman with the University of Oklahoma's club team.
Kenny Monday, former Oklahoma State wrestler and 1988 Olympic gold medalist, said the Olympic Games are the pinnacle in wrestling.
“I can't imagine a kid not having that dream anymore,” Monday said. “I think they are making a mistake. It's man's oldest sport. I don't understand it. I don't get it.”
Former University of Oklahoma wrestlers Sam Hazewinkel and Jared Frayer both wrestled for the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. They were angered and frustrated by the IOC's decision.
“Guaranteed, a lot of dreams were crushed today,” Hazewinkel said.
Frayer, an assistant coach for the Sooners, said, “It was a pretty low blow. It's something we as wrestlers see as the ultimate goal, making the Olympics.”
The IOC executive board decided to retain modern pentathlon, the event considered most at risk, and removed wrestling instead from its list of 25 “core sports.”
“I am horrified by this announcement,” said Wayne Wells, a former Sooner wrestler who won gold in the 1972 Olympic Games.
The IOC board voted to drop wrestling after reviewing a report that analyzed 39 criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity.
The final decision by the 15-member board also was subject to political, emotional and sentimental factors.
Many people in Oklahoma, however, expressed optimism Tuesday that the decision would be overturned.
“We've got our backs against the wall,” said Lee Roy Smith Jr., an Oklahoma State wrestling legend and executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater. “I think there is going to be a challenge to this executive committee's decision. There needs to be an investigation of it, quite frankly.
“We'll have an opportunity to present our case to the IOC before it makes its final decision. And that will be a tough case to make. But our position is very strong globally.”
University of Oklahoma wrestling coach Mark Cody is optimistic the decision will be overturned.
“I think in my heart of hearts it won't stick,” he said. “I just wonder if every country was really represented at the meeting when they decided what the fate was going to be of our sport.”
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