I started my day off today taking the morning train into New York City and learning that the International Olympic Committee had made the decision (or at least is beginning to make the decision) to cut wrestling, both freestyle and Greco-Roman, from the Summer Games effective 2020. If you follow me on social media, I tend to think of myself who does not easily fly off into rants of multiple tweets or ponderous Facebook entries, but this did the trick.
For all four years of my high school career, I was a member of my school's wrestling team. Initially my motivation to join was a combination of the fact that my cousins had all done it and I idolized them, and of course because I loved professional wrestling and even at 14 didn't completely grasp the vast differences.
Wrestling was one of the most difficult things I ever did. It was physically exhausting and mentally draining. We used to make fun of the track team because some days their whole practice was a three mile run and that was the warm-up we did before two to three hours of cardio and wrestling (at the time I was a puffed up high school jock--when I wasn't a sensitive actor or snarky writer--and didn't get that runners had to pace themselves at a specific routine or ruin their bodies for competition; I developed tremendous respect for runners, gymnasts and swimmers in particular as my overlooked brethren when it came to the most physically demanding sports). Beyond that, not knowing at the time what I know now about my propensity for anxiety attacks and the like, I'd pace like a madman and drive myself nuts before I stepped out on the mat each time.
Along the way, I snapped two ligaments in my left shoulder that had to be surgically repaired, sprained my left ankle to a degree that it still swells up when I run more than a mile today, and worked over my wrist joints to the point you can audibly hear them pop whenever I raise my hand.
I list those injuries not to draw attention to my toughness (maybe a little), but to point out how much wrestling meant to me that despite all that I never considered quitting.
Years before I was diagnosed with any sort of stress disorder, sought therapy or took medication, wrestling helped me develop the mental toughness I needed to get through high school. The guidance of my coaches, the support of my teammates and the pride I took in being able to survive and when I was lucky thrive in a form of competition more demanding than any other I knew of gave me the courage and confidence to overcome my own fears; if I could do this, I could do anything.
I started as a 110 pound freshman who lucked into a spot on the varsity squad to a team captain and league all-star (second team, but still) my senior year. I learned leadership, teamwork and determination from my years as a wrestler and have carried all those lessons through my adult life.
Admittedly I come to today's news from a somewhat uninformed place (not a shocker), but from what I can tell, the IOC's decision is rooted in the fact that there can only be 25 events at the Olympics and with the addition (I believe) of golf and rugby, two events needed to be cut. A combination of perceived poor visibility, failure to follow regulations and politics led to wrestling getting the chop (the first I don't buy, the second doesn't fly with me while boxing remains an event and the third has to do with keeping stuff like ping pong and cycling because China and western Europe like them and have more sway on the IOC, which is...yeah). I'm anticipating the gender equality argument, but women have been competing in freestyle wrestling on an Olympic level for years (all-female and mixed gender wrestling teams were on the rise when I was in high school and have only grown in popularity since).
I don't want to slag on anybody's else's passion, so I won't go down the "how they get rid of wrestling when they still have badminton and dressage" route; all I can do is argue the case for wrestling, and that's talking about what a positive role it played in my life and why I would hope the IOC would see the value in encouraging young people to get involved in an activity that strengthens them as an individual while also making them part of a team like few others can.
Like track, swimming or gymnastics, wrestling doesn't have a professional league like an NBA or PGA, so the Olympics is what drive high school and college wrestlers to keep going. To deprive the sport of that dream is to cut it off at the knees. This is putting aside the great drama wrestling has provided with stories like Kurt Angle's gold medal victory in 1996 wrestling with a broken neck.
My question would be why there needs to be a ceiling of 25 for events. Is it a matter of TV time? Every station can choose what they air, can't they (my wife made this point)? If its just service to a draconian set of rules, it's time those rules be overturned.
If you wrestled, if you know somebody who wrestled, if you're a fan or if you just value the things wrestling can teach, I urge you to make your voice heard. Look into petitions. Use the #SaveOlympicWrestling hash tag on Twitter. Learn about the issue and see how you can help. The IOC is going to review this issue this summer; I hope their minds can be changed.
Thanks for reading.