Friday February 15, 2013

The International Olympic Committee took a shocking step this week, voting to exclude wrestling starting at the 2020 Summer Games, instead keeping field hockey and the modern pentathlon.

The vote blindsided the wrestling community worldwide, and there were shockwaves locally.

With the Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling program being one of the most successful not only in New England, but nationwide, the decision by the IOC strikes close to home for MAU coach Scott Legacy.

The Patriots have an Olympic hopeful in 2000 graduate Steven Forrest. Forrest, wrestling for the Marines, was second to 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner at the World Championships and an alternate to compete at the 74-kilogram weight class at the London Games. Legacy said he was in disbelief when he heard about the IOC’s decision.

"I couldn’t believe it and I still don’t believe it," Legacy said on Tuesday. "They will be in the fight of their life to take it away."

The 15-member IOC board use many different criteria to compare sports during the secret-ballot process. In most, wrestling comes out better than its other competitors -- more TV viewers and more participation worldwide, for example.

And there are fears that dropping wrestling from the Olympic program would affect every level from youth to college.

"Speaking for myself, I worry about it having an impact at the local level," Legacy said. "There are still world championships, but what’s the message?"

"Kids that get into wrestling are taught at a young age that the [Olympics are the] pinnacle of our sport, you can’t get any higher," Forrest said. "What do you tell kids that the highest level would be college? There’s no pro league like baseball or football."

Wrestling has been in the Games since the beginning, one of nine events when the Olympics were officially re-started in 1896. It was also part of the ancient Olympiad more than 2,000 years ago. The decision to drop the sport is near-sighted at best and downright asinine at worst. The sport brings together competitors from countries that are on opposite ends politically, but have a strong bond on the mat.

"Not many sports have that camaraderie," said Forrest, who has competed in locales like Cuba, Finland and Russia with the U.S. team. "As a U.S. wrestler, I could go into a Russian wrestling room and still be respected. I wrestled a guy from Iran and the sport bonds us, no matter what other conflicts are going on."

The wrestling community has come out in full force to support keeping the sport on the Olympic roster. A Facebook page set up by USA Wrestling has nearly 70,000 likes after a day-and-a-half. The Twitter hashtag #saveolympicwrestling was trending on Tuesday.

"My opinion is that if there’s enough outcry, the decision will be reconsidered," Legacy said. "There’s a hell of a tradition, even people not in the sport are shocked."

I never wrestled, but I understand the sport and that wrestlers are some of the most resilient athletes in the world. The IOC is going to feel the full force of that resiliency and hopefully when the group meet again in May to discuss the roster of Olympic sports, wrestling is put back on the docket, for all those Olympic hopefuls who want the chance to compete on the biggest stage.

~ Adam Samrov