By: Tim Grzecki
In a shocking move this past Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee eliminated wrestling from the 25 core sports in the 2020 Olympic Games, taking away a sport steeped in history, proven in competition and worn with pride on the sleeves of its athletes.
I am a wrestler. Not necessarily in practice anymore, more so as in it’s a part of who I am, in my soul, my DNA. I was introduced to amateur wrestling when I was in the fourth grade. My big brother came home from his first Middle School Wrestling Practice and wanted to show me the moves he had learned. Ten minutes and a dislocated rotator cuff later, wrestling was permanently imprinted upon me. My fondest memories of high school are being inside a 50’x25’ 90-degree dungeon wearing three layers of sweats with thirty other guys. I would be a wrestling coach right now if my work schedule allowed. I watch college wrestling in The Ticket Studios instead of basketball, much to the dismay of my coworkers. Everything I’ve ever learned about how to live life – hard work, dedication, restraint, focus, resilience, passion – I either learned it on a mat or had it confirmed on one. I tell you all this so you know where I’m coming from when I tell you that the removal of wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games is the wrong decision.
First of all, wrestling is one of the oldest sports known to man. It can be traced back almost 15,000 years, was one of the main competitions in the Olympics of the Ancient Greeks, is mentioned in the Bible, and was in the first modern Olympics in 1896. Wrestling is found on cave drawings in France and in tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. Most importantly, it’s found in gyms all across the world today; in children as young as six and under; in men as old as they feel they can still compete. A sport with that type of legacy has earned its place on the grandest of world stages.
Secondly, wrestling is the purest form of competition, and that’s what the Olympics are all about: competition. Think about it: two men, almost equal in size, attempting to manipulate each other in various positions and attempt to score points or pin their opponent’s shoulders to the mat. That’s it. One-on-one. No one to help. No one to make a mistake that could affect you except yourself. The uniform is just a single piece of spandex and a pair of light shoes. No technological advances to help improve performance. Like other sports, however, referees can be a factor, but with just two competitors the margin of error is greatly reduced. So a wrestling match really boils down to who’s the better man in those six minutes. Who’s the best? That’s the way competition should be.
Also, wrestling is the single-most demanding sport. No other sport requires the total package of strength, endurance, flexibility, speed and mental toughness quite like wrestling. Soccer players and runners need the endurance and leg strength, but the upper body can be neglected. Swimmers use their entire bodies but I challenge the mental aspect of swimming in a straight line compared to the ever-changing conditions of a wrestling match. Consider this: wrestling is one of the few, if not only, sports that you wouldn’t do for fun. Unlike hockey, basketball or football, a group of guys aren’t going to have pick-up wrestling matches. Unlike swimming, canoeing or volleyball, you aren’t going to take the family away for the weekend to wrestle.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, wrestling should not have been eliminated from the games because for wrestlers there is no greater honor than competing in the Olympics. Countless sports have other venues for greatness. Basketball has the NBA; hockey the NHL; golf, new to the games in 2016, has the Masters. Championships and big money contracts in those areas are the main goals; winning in the Olympics is the icing on the cake. I mean, there’s even professional volleyball. Wrestlers have high school, college, and the Olympics – that’s it. There is no real professional wrestling. Sure they could go on to become MMA fighters, but in that venue, grappling is only a small portion. Some might argue that they could move on to “sports entertainment wrestling,” but that has much more to do with acting than actually wrestling.
Wrestling has been a stable of the Olympics since its inception. It belongs there. Hopefully the IOC realizes this when they put wrestling up against the seven other “sports” to earn the final spot in the 2020 Olympic Games.