March 25, 2013

SMITH | Save Olympic Wrestling

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If you were perhaps living under a rock this past week and missed it on Saturday, Cornell’s Kyle Dake made wrestling history ,becoming the first athlete to ever win four national championships in four different weight classes.  Dake’s outstanding accomplishment makes him one of only three wrestlers in history to win four national titles and the only one to do it without a redshirt year.   While Dake has firmly cemented his name in collegiate wrestling lore, his matchup with Penn State’s David Taylor this weekend brought the sport of wrestling a much-needed spark to catch the attention of the national media.     This is not because collegiate wrestling is in jeopardy, but because of the challenge of reinstating international wrestling into the 2020 summer Olympics.  After a vote last month, the IOC has decided to relinquish wrestling’s title as one of its “core” sports, and therefore, wrestling must compete with seven other sports to be included in the competition.   The decision to cut Olympic wrestling has come as a shock to the entire Olympic community and is utterly ridiculous in every sense.  Wrestling has been a part of the summer Olympics since its inception in 1896 and has roots dating back to the ancient games in Greece.  To go along with this, wrestling is one of the most universal sports in the Olympics the sport has competitors coming from 71 different countries — more than both modern pentathlon or Tae Kwon Do, two sports that many thought might get cut instead.  I feel like I am joking when I write this but the summer Olympics now features horse dressage, rhythmic gymnastics, canoeing, table tennis, badminton and archery but not wrestling.  As a fan, I thought the point of the Olympics was to be celebration of the best athletes worldwide, but judging by this decision, that is obviously not the case.    According to Mark Adams, the IOC’s spokesman, the decision was about “what works best for the Olympic games.  This was the best program for the 2020 Olympics.  This is not about what’s wrong with wrestling but what is good for the Games.”   But what Adams purposefully leaves out is that the decision was primarily about money and sponsorships.  For example, Tae Kwon Do most likely retained its status because of its popularity in Korea and committee did not want to offend Samsung, one of the Games’ largest sponsors.  Wrestling may be a global sport with appeal in a variety of countries and regions but it doesn’t have the major corporation backing it that several other sports obviously do.Because of this, wrestling now faces an uphill battle to regain its status in the Olympics … A battle the sport must win if it wants retain and grow its popularity on more local and regional levels as well.  Without the lure and promise of eventually being able to compete in Olympics, young, potentially great wrestlers around the globe will possibly veer to other sports instead.The good news is that the wrestling community seems up to the challenge.  A “Save Olympic Wrestling” group on Facebook has already amassed over 86,076 members, and numerous websites and petitions have been started all over the web. This charge is being led in the United States by the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling, which has invested money in television PSAs and social media with the help of KOM Sports Marketing.  In the end, what it’s really going to take to save the sport is an effort to increase the excitement of the action and prove that it can be popular to the general fan instead of only its dedicated fan base. In an article on gold medalist Jordan Burroughs discussed the need for rule adjustments to promote more scoring and less “tedious” matches.   Undoubtedly, such large changes to the actual sport can help wrestling become more watchable for the casual observer who doesn’t understand technicalities or strategy. Even little things like more emphatic introductions can add to the drama strike up popularity.   This also where Kyle Dake and his amazing story factors back into the equation.  Dake’s victory became the front story on the 12 a.m. SportsCenter early Sunday morning and a national headline giving wrestling the time in the spotlight it desperately needs.  In his interview Dake was able to campaign to save Olympic wrestling and alert more sports fans nationwide of the predicament his sport now faces.   Unfortunately, for Dake and all the other phenomenal wrestlers who won national titles Saturday night, the fate of their sport may be out of their hands when the IOC meets again to make its final decision in September.

Original Author: Alex Smith