Dan Gable, Bruce Baumgartner, Jeff Blatnick, John Smith, Rulon Gardner, Dave Schultz, Kenny Monday, Cael Sanderson, Colorado Springs’ own Henry Cejudo. Household names and American sport heroes, just part of the list of the 50 American wrestlers who have won Olympic gold since it became one of the original sports at the 1896 Modern Games in Athens.
America has competed in wrestling in every Games other than the star-crossed 1980 Games in Moscow, when the desperate White House and President Jimmy Carter forced the United States Olympic Team to stay home as a matter of “national security,” foolishly dreaming that the threat of an Olympic boycott by America would force Soviet armed forces out of Afghanistan after the December 1979 invasion.
Who knew then it would be Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and his covert efforts to ultimately send the Soviet forces home in 1989, not the 500 American athletes who were denied the chance to realize their dreams in Moscow and embarrass the USSR on its home turf?
Like three-time world wrestling champion Lee Kemp or world champion Chris Campbell, or Russ Hellickson and Dan Chandler.
The United States has won more Olympic wrestling medals, a total of 125, than any other currently existing nation in Olympic history, and the sport has produced some of the nation’s genuine Olympic heroes.
More than 8,000 men and women wrestle in some 235 NCAA programs, and more than 265,000 boys and girls wrestle in high school programs across America. It’s likely that most of them share a common dream………..to make the United States Olympic Team and win a medal for their family and their country.
Like Henry Cejudo in Beijing in 2008, the child of a Mexican family that entered the United States illegally, with his mother now a United States citizen. He realized the American Dream because of wrestling, and he made the USA proud of him and his struggle to get to the podium. He won a state title at Coronado High and entered the resident athlete program at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center on the way to becoming the youngest American wrestler to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
As of this morning, it is likely that they will never get the chance the chase that dream or stand on the medal podium after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio conclude. In sweaty, small wrestling facilities across America today, the news is reaching girls and boys of all ages. It’s like a death in the family.
Dropping Olympic sports like wrestling has been an easy way for major U.S. colleges to reduce their budgets and continue the never-ending excesses of football and basketball.
What happens now to the schools that have maintained wrestling programs in light of the IOC’s appalling move this morning?
In a shocking move, the International Olympic Committee voted today to drop wrestling from its schedule for the 2020 Games. The unexpected decision to drop a sport where 71 nations participated in London last summer and women’s wrestling was added in 2004 was made via secret ballot during a Tuesday meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, where officials were discussing ways to "streamline" the Olympics.
Now wrestling will have to face off with seven other sports that are fighting for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics, including baseball and softball, which were dropped from the Olympics after Beijing in 2008 and sports trying to make the Olympics for the first time, including karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wake boarding and wushu. Most experienced Olympic media think it is "extremely unlikely" that wrestling would be brought back so soon after the committee voted to eliminate it.
"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. "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."
Adams said the decision was made by secret ballot over several rounds, with members voting each time on which sport should not be included in the core group. IOC President Jacques Rogge did not vote.
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. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the voting details were not made public.
Pardon me, no disrespect intended, but wake boarding, wushu (a full contact sport based on Chinese martial arts) and sport climbing would seem to be a better fit in our own Rocky Mountain State Games than the Olympic Games.
Wrestling is known as the world's oldest competitive sport. It dates to cave drawings of wrestling found as far back as 3000 BC and was part of the ancient Olympics in 708 BC. When the modern Games resumed in 1896, wrestling was one of nine sports on the program.
The sport now faces a tough, politically-charged and contentious battle to get back on the Olympic program in 2020 and beyond. The IOC, which has just reached peace and harmony with the United States Olympic Committee over a decade-long issue regarding the split of revenues from American television rights and worldwide sponsorships, takes a step today that is a gut-punch to thousands of American men and women in wrestling, one of our nation’s most popular sports.
"The USOC is an absolutely crucial pillar in the Olympic Movement”, said IOC president Jacques Rogge. “This agreement lays a cornerstone which will provide the foundations for the continued growth of the Movement and our shared values, not just in the United States but around the world," he added.
So now the IOC has dropped wrestling after opening it to women in 2004, dropped softball, where women were excelling from around the world, and canned baseball on the grounds that it would not provide the best athletes in the world from Major League Baseball, as well as the sport’s highly-publicized performance-enhancing drug issues.
It blew off two superb bids by New York and Chicago in their quests to land the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, but the IOC continually mouths its “respect” and admiration for the United States and its magnificent contributions to the Olympic movement.
It’s a brutal morning full of shock, anger and determination at the offices of USA Wrestling in Colorado Springs today, as one can imagine.
"We knew that today would be a tough day for American athletes competing in whatever sport was identified by the IOC Executive Board,” said USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun. “Given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality, we were surprised when the decision was announced. It is important to remember that today's action is a recommendation, and we hope that there will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the important role that wrestling plays in the sports landscape both in the United States and around the world. In the meantime, we will fully support USA Wrestling and its athletes."
With news of the International Olympic Committee deciding to drop wrestling as one of its core Olympic sports in 2020, USA wrestling has created a Facebook page to help support Olympic wrestling. The Facebook page is titled “Keep Wrestling in the Olympics.” The page is intended to be a worldwide effort to inform the International Olympic Committee and the world that wrestling should be an Olympic sport.
USA Wrestling would ask every supporter of wrestling to “like” the “Keep Wrestling in the Olympics” Facebook page and to spread the word to every corner of America’s wrestling community.
This morning, my mind’s eye sees Blatnick rise in triumph on the mat in Los Angeles in 1984 after winning his gold and defeating cancer. I see the faces of those wrestlers on the 1980 Olympic Team that stayed home during USOC ceremonies in Washington at the Capitol and their tears of disappointment. And I see Gardner placing his shoes on the mat in Athens in 2004 in a symbol that he was retiring, just four years after his stunning upset of Russia’s Alexandr Karelin for the gold medal in Sydney.
Now, we are told there may be no more wrestling in the Games after 2016?
Shame on those who made that decision this morning, and their “secret” vote in Lausanne.
Mike Moran was the chief spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee from 1978-2003 and Games from Lake Placid to Salt Lake City. He served as the Sports Information Director at Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado, and has lived in Colorado Springs for 34 years and is the Senior Media Consultant for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation and keynote speaker and emcee for numerous sports events. firstname.lastname@example.org