SD wrestling community stunned by Olympic snubSome blame incompetent leadership of sport’s international federation.
By: Chris Huber, The Daily Republic
The decision to drop wrestling, one of the original Olympic sports, from the 2020 Olympic Games is infuriating and perplexing many in the South Dakota wrestling community and causing some to blame the sport's international leaders.
“Running and wrestling are the two oldest sports. To not have one of them in the Olympics is ridiculous,” said Randy Lewis, a 1984 wrestling gold medalist and Rapid City native. “I’m in shock right now. I can’t believe this happened.”
After a vote by the International Olympic Committee’s executive board on Tuesday, it was decided that the sport will not automatically appear in the 2020 games as one of the 25 core sports, The Associated Press reported.
Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020, when the Games will be in Istanbul, Tokyo or Madrid.
“It is extremely unlikely that wrestling would be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board,” The Associated Press reported.
Wrestling was voted out from a final group that also included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey, officials familiar with the vote told The Associated Press.
The board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission that analyzed 39 criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity.
Bill Scherr, a Mobridge native and 1988 wrestling bronze medalist, is now a volunteer assistant wrestling coach for Northwestern University and works as the director of Barclays Wealth in Chicago.
“This was basically a situation where the international wrestling leadership got outhustled by the other sports that were on the chopping block,” Scherr said. “They did nothing to lobby for the sport to the IOC, and the other sports were working tirelessly to promote themselves.”
Scherr said the decision did not surprise him. As a member of an Olympic bid committee for Chicago, prior to the 2012 games, he got wind that the IOC might cut wrestling and said he tried to warn international leadership that it could happen.
“They didn’t listen, and now it’s a shame that wrestling lost in this political process,” he said.
“Because of inept leadership at the top of international wrestling, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of kids will wake up to a future where an Olympic dream might not be realized.”
Scherr said wrestling beats other sports that were on the chopping block in any metric the committee would look at, including TV ratings, worldwide participation and attendance; however, leadership wasn’t willing to “play ball” with the IOC, Scherr claimed.
Lewis also criticized the international wrestling federation, which is based in France and goes by the acronym FILA, and said the federation’s rule changes have made the sport less exciting and ultimately made the decision to drop wrestling easier for the IOC.
He said the lack of stalling penalties and the use of a coin flip to determine positioning when a round ends in a tie as reasons why the sport has become less exciting to watch.
“They (FILA) have basically destroyed the sport internationally. Without a doubt it is less exciting and less fair then it was 20 years ago,” Lewis said. “They have made probably 50 rule changes and 49 of them have been bad for the sport.”
He hopes this announcement will be a wake-up call that changes need to be made to the sport to make it more exciting internationally.
“My hope is they will get their stuff in a group and still be able to get into the Olympics,” Lewis said. “Maybe this helps make the sport get better, helps us right the ship, so to speak.”
Ken Ruml, a former Howard High School wrestling coach and one of five current USA Wrestling gold level coaches, was furious when he found out about the announcement Tuesday morning.
“I’m just shocked right now. I’m devastated. It really hurts,” Ruml said. “I don’t know how they could do this to us.”
Ruml went to the 2012 London Olympics with the USA wrestling team and helps train some of the county’s top wrestlers.
“We had a full house for every match there. You couldn’t get a ticket,” Ruml said of wrestling at the 2012 games. “There are so many other sports you can get rid of before wrestling.”
Ruml was surprised to hear of the announcement, especially when other sports like golf and rugby will be joining the Olympics.
“They are going to replace wrestling with golf? That’s ridiculous,” he said. “Wrestling is a man’s sport. Abe Lincoln was a wrestler.”
The IOC said the move is not a comment on the state of wrestling.
“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said during an interview Tuesday with The AP. “In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”
One of the core sports the IOC elected to keep was the pentathlon, a five-sport event that combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and pistol shooting.
“We have millions of kids that compete in wrestling all around the world,” Lewis said. “How many do you think do the pentathlon? A couple thousand, maybe.”
South Dakota has a strong tradition of Olympic wrestling, with six natives of the state competing in the Games during recent history. Four of the six were Olympic medalists. Lewis won gold in 1984 and Scherr won bronze in 1988. Dennis Koslowski, from Doland, won the bronze in 1988 and the silver in 1992, and his brother Duane Koslowski also wrestled in the 1988 Olympics.
Jim Scherr, brother of Bill and also a Mobridge native, wrestled in the 1988 Olympics and later went on to serve as the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee for 10 years. He is now the commissioner for the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was not immediately available for comment on the IOC’s decision.
Lastly, Lincoln McIlravy is a 2000 Olympic bronze medalist from Philip and now lives in Iowa City.
Mitchell High School wrestling coach Travis Carpenter said he was disappointed to hear the decision from the IOC but thinks it will have little effect on the Mitchell wrestling community.
“We are going to continue to do what we do and continue to promote the sport to get young people interested,” Carpenter said. “When it’s the highest level of achievement you can reach for a sport, it is very hard to lose that, but we will keep going.”
Ruml said not having Olympic wrestling for youngsters to look forward to will be “devastating” for the sport.
“What do they have to look forward to after college now?” he asked.
Lewis thinks the pinnacle of wrestling will go from an Olympic gold medal to an NCAA championship.
“Young kids are still going to strive to be great wrestlers,” Lewis said.
He thinks more wrestlers will go into mixed martial art sports after college to continue their careers if there is no Olympic wrestling.
“You will see a much higher percentage going to MMA or fight for the UFC because those guys are going to want to continue to use the skills they have learned,” Lewis said.
Carpenter said he thinks the wrestling community will now “rise up” to try and get the sport reinstated in the Olympics.
“I know I have already gotten a number of texts and emails throughout the day saying help save Olympic wrestling, so my hope is something can get done to fix this,” Carpenter said.