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.”
Or going to OSU or Iowa and winning NCAA championships.
“The guys who are in for the love of the sport, it will stay the same,” Freeman said.
The vote by the IOC executive committee was goofy on several fronts.
This isn't like softball, another sport near and dear to Oklahomans. Despite the fun we have following the U.S. softball stars who continually come through Oklahoma City, that's a sport with limited international appeal. Only four or five nations can compete in softball at the highest level.
Meanwhile, wrestling spans the globe. In London, 14 men's wrestling gold medals were awarded and were won by nine nations. Iran won three, the U.S. won two. Japan and South Korea won golds. So did Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. A Puerto Rican won silver.
The major knock against wrestling — that it had no female counterpart — is gone. Females are wrestling in bunches; London bestowed four women's gold medals. Twenty-one U.S. universities sponsor women's wrestling.
And finally, the history. Wrestling is a bedrock sport of the Olympics.
“I like to refer to it as one of the pillars of the flame in the Olympic movement,” said Lee Roy Smith Jr., executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater. “And that's because of its authenticity. Its originality.”
Forgive Smith. He gets a little idealistic when talking about his sport. You can't blame him. His brother, John, won two Olympic golds, and Lee Roy himself was denied a spot on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team in a famous dispute with legendary coach Dan Gable.
So let's give Smith some latitude.
Wrestling has “always mirrored society,” he said. “The definition of wrestling is to struggle. It's always been such a close parallel between sport and life.”
The Greeks, Smith said, recognized it. “Plato and Socrates have written about it,” Smith said. “It's very much part of Greek culture, Olympic culture, Western culture.”
That's why I say that while this decision was a bummer, it's not any kind of death knell for wrestling.
In the U.S., fan interest in wrestling might be down, but wrestling participation is up.
“It's always been a sport that has survived society and cultures,” Smith said.
And wrestling will survive this dopey decision by the International Olympic Committee.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.