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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.
by Ed Godfrey Published: February 12, 2013

His predecessor at the University of Oklahoma, former Sooner wrestling coach Jack Spates, said the popularity of Olympic wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, has been hindered by international rule changes that make it less exciting.

Olympic wrestling matches in the 1970s were more high-scoring and much more entertaining for fans and television viewers, Spates said.

“Back then, if you weren't seeking to score, constantly working to score, then they were hitting you for stalling,” Spates said. “The result was extremely exciting wrestling. Hopefully, we can get back to a more wide open style of wrestling (in the Olympics), but it would be a tremendous tragedy to eliminate our sport.”

Wells also thinks international rule changes have hurt wrestling's popularity.

“I hate the rules,” he said. “There is not much incentive to try and get a fall. I just think it's so hard for fans to follow. International rules have changed so much that I can't even follow it.”

Even if wrestling is no longer part of the Olympics, coaches and athletes say it will continue to remain a strong sport in the United States. Cody said it's a myth that the sport is dying.

High school participation has grown by 40,000 in the United State over the past decade, Cody said. And there are 95 new college wrestling teams since 1999, plus 21 intercollegiate wrestling teams just for women.

But in countries such as France, wrestling receives support only because it's an Olympic sport, Vidal said.

The United States will have allies in Russia and Iran, where wrestling is the most popular sport, to fight the IOC ruling.

However, the United States influence with the IOC is not as great as many Americans would like to think, Baughman said.

“I am extremely disappointed,” Baughman said. “Wrestling is one of the ancient Olympic sports, second only to running. It's been in the modern Olympics pretty much since the beginning.

“I don't think it's a done deal, but it's going to be tough. The International Olympic Committee is only concerned about TV viewers and putting butts in the stands. Once the IOC has made up their mind, they are not going to admit they made a mistake.”

Like most wrestlers, winning an Olympic gold medal was a Monday's dream as a kid. Now as a coach, he tries to help others live the same dream. But that dream may no longer be attainable after the 2016 Olympic Games.

“We sell the dream,” Monday said. “It's not going to kill wrestling, but I never thought wrestling would not be part of the Olympics.”

Oklahoman Columnist Berry Tramel and The Associated Press contributed to this report