USA Wrestling prepares an Olympic response
It's ironic that the biggest wrestling news in years came this week as area high school wrestlers were preparing to embark on the monthlong road to the PIAA state championships.
Area coaches and officials were caught off guard by Tuesday's news that the International Olympic Committee planned to drop wrestling as an Olympic sport after the 2016 Games.
According to an Associated Press story on Thursday, USA Wrestling, the sport's governing body in this country, is forming an all-star team, of sorts, to lobby the IOC to keep the sport.
Former world champion Bill Scherr, his brother Jim, a former head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and American mat superstars Bruce Baumgartner, John Smith, Rulon Gardner, Dan Gable, Kerry McCoy and Clarissa Chun are part of the group which will lobby not only the IOC, but international business leaders and public relations people in a fullcourt press, to borrow another sport's terminology, to save wrestling in the Games. Add in luminaries such as Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, who has vowed to do all he can to help the cause, and you have a pretty impressive group.
One of the biggest difficulties for the sport will be to decide what style of wrestling it wants to promote. Most of the world wrestles either freestyle or Greco-Roman, and those styles have traditionally been in the Olympics. Unfortunately, the people who foot the bill for much of the Olympics, particularly American television executives, apparently think those styles are too boring for audiences.
They're not far off in their assessment, either,
As demanding a sport as wrestling is for the participant, it can be
tough to watch for spectators, especially people unfamiliar with it. And in particular, freestyle and Greco-Roman can be tough to watch. World class wrestlers are so good that matches tend to be defensive affairs that come down to one or two key moves in a span of almost 10 minutes. Pins are sometimes so quick that if your blink, you miss them, because the instant a wrestler's shoulders hit the mat in those styles, it's a pin. In freestyle, a wrestler who has one signature move can take control of a match with that move after seemingly being beaten.
The style which our high school wrestlers will be competing in on Saturday at the Southern Sectional tournament at Mifflinburg is called folkstyle. It combines elements of the other two and is a more wide-open, high scoring style, although it too can be difficult to watch if two opponents decide they want to dance with each other for a whole match instead of wrestle. Logically, folkstyle would seem to be the way for international wrestling to go in persuading the IOC that they want to make the sport more viable for the 21st century. The trouble is that there is still a kind of Cold War going on in the sport. International powers such as Russia, Iran, Iraq, China and some of the other former Soviet bloc countries embrace freestyle and Greco-Roman. Getting them to change to folkstyle would be to give a leg up to the U.S.A., the other major power, in international competition, according to their thinking.
Some ardent fans say that will never happen.
Then again, the international wrestling body must think boldly in response to a bold move by the IOC.
Stay tuned; we haven't heard the last of this story.
In the meantime, follow the area kids over the next four weeks. Longtime fans know the caliber of wrestling they'll see. Newcomers might be surprised at the talent level and dedication wrestlers have. Even the worst wrestlers put themselves on the line every time they go out on the mat. They can't blame a teammate or anyone else for a loss. That takes a lot of guts, particularly for the guys who aren't so good.
(Souders is a sports writer for The News-Item. His column
appears every Friday.)