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By Glen Miller
When 7-year-old Jude Randall returned from watching wrestling at the London Olympic Games, he made a declaration which made his grandpa a very happy man.
“He told me that he was going to wrestle for four years in college for me and then go get an Olympic gold medal,” said former El Reno High School wrestling coach Archie Randall.
While Randall can help make part of his grandson’s dream a reality, being head coach at Oklahoma City University, the latter has been crushed by a move which pinned wrestling powers around the world.
Last week the International Olympic Committee’s executive board removed wrestling from the list of 26 sports to make up the 2020 Summer Olympic Games at a yet to be determined site.
The IOC opted to keep the modern pentathlon, a five-sport event dating back to the 1912 Games, instead of wrestling.
“It came out of right field,” said Randall of the IOC decision.
“No one thought that it was being considered or even thinking about dropping wrestling. It’s the oldest sport in Olympic history and it doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Randall says that every sport faces the possibility of elimination after each Olympic Games are completed. However, he said that higher powers inside USA Wrestling were blind-sided by the IOC.
“After every Olympic year, every program is at risk of being dropped and the IOC made its recommendations. The fact is USA Wrestling dropped the ball because they didn’t pay attention to what was going on,” said Randall.
Randall serves as Oklahoma’s state director for USA Wrestling and sits on the board of directors as the representative for NAIA wrestling. He says the IOC decision makes no rational sense.
“This affects all the heavy hitters. The United States, Canada, China, Japan, France, and the more than 200 countries which wrestle in the Olympics.
“I don’t know how the executive board came up with this decision. There is something else there that is at play and we don’t know what. There is no telling what the issue is, but the IOC is very political,” said Randall.
Wrestling is not totally pinned out of the Olympics. It will still be a sport in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro and can still make its way onto the list for the 2016 games.
“The executive board makes its recommendations to the general assembly and they will make the final decision. It’s not dead yet. There is still 2016 and the current IOC president (Jacques Rogge) is going out and the new president can come in and change anything he wants,” said Randall.
Wrestling, which has been contested in the modern day Olympic Games since 1896, will now plead its case to be included in the 2020 Games along with baseball, softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and the martial art of wushu.
One spot remains open and the executive board will meet again in St. Petersburg, Russia, in May. It will then decide what sport or sports to be proposed for inclusion into the 2020 games. The general assembly meets in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We have the most medals in wrestling of any other nation followed by Russia and they and other countries won’t stand for this (IOC decision).
“It’s a sit and wait type of deal. We will have to wait and see what the powers to be decide,” said Randall.
Wrestling dates back to the ancient Olympic Games, but was dropped based on a report from the IOC program commission – according to published articles.
It was reported that the program commission analyzed 39 different criteria which included TV ratings, ticket sales (London Games), anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity.
Randall said the IOC’s basis for dropping wrestling is flawed.
“At the London Olympics, every session of wrestling was sold out and we got good coverage. I think the politics were horrendous on this deal.
“Two hundred countries will be affected on this deal. I like baseball and softball and I think they should have never been dropped, but they don’t have as many nations affected,” said Randall.
The IOC’s decision was even a shock to those who participated in the sport on the international level, such as Oklahoma State University wrestling coach John Smith – a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
“It was just devastating. No one in the sport of wrestling throughout the world had any idea this was going to happen. There had been talk, but there has been talk about a lot of sports over the course of the last eight years.
“We were caught off guard with this. What was disappointing is that we really didn’t have any representation to fight for ourselves. Just a judgment that did not have credentials behind it,” said Smith.
Hurting the sport in the United States
The United States has been different in many aspects when it comes to wrestling compared to that of other countries worldwide participating in the sport.
According to Randall, college wrestlers in this country use the Folkstyle to compete and usually don’t compete for a spot on the United States Olympic Team until after graduation.
“In the United States we wrestle Folkstyle and then after graduation they become Olympians,” said Randall.
The Olympics use the Freestyle and Greco Roman format, both of which are used by USA Wrestling during the summer to contest its youth national championships.
The difference is Greco Roman is more of an upper body style in which throws are limited from the hips, where Freestyle conforms more to its name.
In Folkstyle, says Randall, it’s more about wrestling on the feet.
“There is no bottom and you don’t get escape points. You wrestle on your feet and you still have the throws and pins, it’s just faster and more exciting,” said Randall.
Randall says he doesn’t think the IOC decision will change what the United States does in the sport from the collegiate level down.
“Less than 1 percent of wrestlers in the nation become Olympians, so I don’t think it will hurt the sport in this country. High school wrestling has grown over 40 percent in the last decade and it’s the sixth most popular sport in the United States.
“The NCAA Division I Championships are sold out every year and the one in Oklahoma broke all the attendance records,” said Randall.
Worldwide impact of the IOC decision
It’s been reported that Rogge has been contacted by Raphael Martinetti, president of International Wrestling Federation FILA, and that the two were to meet to discuss the decision and what the sport needs to do to improve its standing before the May meeting of the executive committee.
“What I was aware was the possibility of dropping the Greco Roman part out of the Olympics and increasing the number of women wrestling. USA Wrestling has representation on those committees and we should have been ready for this,” said Randall.
Dropping wrestling from the Olympics, said Randall, will devastate countries like Canada and Russia – which like the United States – are powers in the sport. The sport is one of the strongest for Russia in the Summer Games, with Soviet and Russian wrestlers collecting 77 gold medals.
“In Canada all their wrestling programs are set up to produce Olympians,” said Randall. “There will still be World Games and stuff like that, but it will be sad if they drop it for good.”
Randall feels the IOC may have based its decision on medal counts alone.
“It’s about the medals count. They can take anything away from the Olympics, like basketball, because there are people in places that are influential enough that if they don’t like something they will take it away.
“They’ve talked again about removing the professional athletes from basketball,” said Randall.
Smith said the IOC move will have a ripple effect across many nations.
“When you look across the world, our sport is diversified. We have almost 200 countries which participate in wrestling. Comparing that to other core sports in the Olympic movement, it’s one of the highest.
“We meet the IOC’s criteria to be an Olympic sport. We meet almost every criteria they had and one of the sports up at the top in several of those categories – and that’s diversity, that’s participation throughout the world. We have a million wrestlers just in the United States, there’s not a million athletes in some of the sports that are participated in the Olympics.
“So the way this came about and the way this was passed or the recommendation that came down of eliminating wrestling for 2020 again was not justified,” said Smith.