Wrestling: Northern Nevada reacts to IOC dropping wrestling from Olympics
Wrestling was taken down by the recent International Olympic Committee announcement to drop the sport as one of its core events for the Summer Olympic Games in 2020.
Don’t expect to see the sport expose its back to the mat, however, as supporters around the world have rallied to protest a decision that affects the men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman styles.
Backlash has lit up virtually every wrestling web site, and Northern Nevada has been no exception.
“It’s been tremendous,” said Ross Aguiar, a 1980 Churchill County High School graduate who now serves as director of the Reno Tournament of Champions. “From (1988 and 1992 Olympic gold medalist) John Smith to (2004 Olympic gold medalist) Cael Sanderson, they feel betrayed. It’s not just in the United States, either; Iran, Russian and South Korea, they’re crazy about wrestling.”
Wrestling is still eligible to join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The final vote on which sport to add will be made in September. The IOC is due to decide in September whether Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Games.
Churchill County High School coach Mitch Overlie indicated he has signed an online petition protesting the IOC decision.
“It’s just a sad state of affairs,” he said. “This goes back before the modern Olympics.”
“I think back to when I was an 11-year-old boy who wore a John Smith singlet with USA written all over it. That was what you dreamed about … to be like John Smith.”
Retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha has a long history with wrestling that includes service as an assistant coach at several Northern Nevada high schools, most recently Carson High. He was a two-time state champion for Clark High School in Las Vegas in 1968 (106 pounds) and ’69 (123 pounds) – Clark was state team champion both years – and later wrestled for Syracuse University.
“I think the IOC will seriously have to reconsider that decision,” he said. “It’s a big mistake. They’ve abandoned an ancient sport, one of very few to have lasted from millennium to millennium.
“When I think of the great sports of antiquity, I think of wrestling. It’s a sport that dates back before the birth of Christ.”
Zephyr Cove resident David Jack, formerly a standout heavyweight for Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, was one of the finalists in 1984 at the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman Trials. He has continued to follow the sport since his son, Clayton Jack, compiled a 121-37 career record at Oregon State and placed fourth at the NCAA championships in 2012.
“My gut feeling is it’s going to get overturned,” Jack said. “There is a lot of support for wrestling, but they were easily outvoted by the countries that don’t have wrestling.
“The management of FILA were kind of asleep at the switch. They did not do a good job of marketing themselves … everybody thought wrestling was safe.”
Wrestling has its annual world championships. However, the Olympics remain as the prime time stage.
“The Olympics is the pinnacle of the sport,” Rocha said. “In boxing, you can become a professional. In baseball, football and basketball, you can become a professional. In lacrosse, you can become a professional. The Olympics is the dream of every wrestler.”
Gardnerville resident Neal Freitas was a state champion at Yerington High School in 1976 as part of a dynasty in which the Lions won 107 straight dual meets from 1971-79. Freitas later wrestled at the University of Montana, then coached at Yerington and Douglas. He is a retired Lyon County School District administrator who in 2012 successfully ran for a seat on the Douglas County school board.
He sees the decision as unfortunate.
“The more I look at it, the more upset I get,” Freitas said. “It goes beyond wrestling. I want to believe in the Olympic ideal. You’re not only competing against that individual, but measuring your own improvement.”
Unlike such Olympic sports as basketball, soccer, tennis, even track and field, where professional careers are available, wrestling really has no direct option.
“Wrestling is an underappreciated sport where you’re not looking at a big payday,” Freitas said. “As a coach, you can always refer back to wrestling being about hard work and sweat.
“It’s a true, man-on-man, one-on-one, no excuses (sport).”-
Wrestling is not only embraced in North America, but Europe, the Middle East and in Asia.
“When I was in Mongolia in 2011 as part of an expedition to search for Genghis Khan; when they found out I had been a wrestler, they treated me like a demagogue,” Rocha said, adding he was taken to visit Bokhiin Orgoo Mongolia’s national wrestling venue in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.-
“What struck me about this remote nation, wrestling is venerated. The Mongolians love wrestling; they love Olympic wrestling.”
Jack, who placed second at 194 pounds at the California state tournament as a senior at South Tahoe High School in 1975, has also seen enthusiasm for the sport worldwide.
Furthermore, he believes the U.S. won’t be the deciding factor if the IOC decision is eventually overturned.
“It’s going to be countries like Russia, the Eastern Bloc countries, and the Middle East where wrestling carries a lot of clout,” he said. “I was talking to one of the Canadian coaches and he said losing wrestling in the Summer Olympics is like losing hockey. They’ve had like five medalists in the last three Olympics, so this is really big.” –
Overlie, who wrestled for Montana State University-Northern, believes the IOC decision could have serious consequences down the road.
“In 20, 30 years you could see it (disappear),” he said. “My college coach instant messaged me and he thinks the implications would be far-reaching. He sees programs will take a hit, even the big ones like Iowa State and Oklahoma State. I mean, what’s the purpose of having a program? How many blows can wrestling take? And this is a pretty significant blow.”
Aguiar, who wrestled at Boise State and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011, does not believe the IOC decision will be a death knell to the sport in America.
“I don’t think wrestling is going away,” he said. “I think they’ll fix this. This is definitely a letdown, but the world championships will still happen every year.”
There could be benefits from the controversy, Jack added.
“This might help wrestling by bringing it to a head,” he said.
Overlie notes the Olympics bring out the true die-hard wrestling fans.
“To watch Jordan Burroughs wrestle in the semifinals, you had to get up at 2 a.m.; not too many people are willing to do that unless they’re die-hard fans,” Overlie said.
Burroughs won the 74-kilogram freestyle gold medal at the 2012 London Games.
“You’ve got guys like Burroughs and (Jake) Varner (2012 96-kilogram gold medalist), they’re going to train for Rio (de Janeiro in 2016), but if this thing doesn’t get overturned, it’s going to be an absolute disaster for the next generation, and even worse for the rest of the world.”