Cutting the oldest Olympic sport from the Olympics is a bad idea. But that’s exactly what the IOC is proposing for 2020. Once it is out of the olympics (to make room for modern pentathalon, wakeboarding, wushu and a few others). I’ve got nothing against those sports (I don’t know what some of them are), but I do know that wrestling is one of the oldest sports, dating back to when Greeks and the Romans started this whole deal. As Rulon Gardner said recently, when you think of the Olympics, you think marathon and wrestling. To be fair, you also think of swimming, and gymnastics, and…well, you get the point.
Wrestling is primal; it’s one person’s strength, cunning, training, stamina and will against another’s–right there in real time. As Mike Downey notes, it’s “hand-to-hand combat in its essence. A fight with civility.”
To wrestle is to enter a different sort of time and space. Time expands and the outside world fades into a blur. I used to hear it said that for wrestlers, the only thing that exists in for that six-minute match is you, your opponent, and God.
I know that feeling, having wrestled in high school, and dabbled a bit in college. I was never even close to having olympic aspirations, but I can feel for those who do. The olympics are the pinnacle of amateur sport. The very best high school and college wrestlers have the olympics as their ideal–their greatest level of achievement. It’s also the only familiarity most people have with the real sport of wrestling. Take it out of the Olympics, and “wrestling” may become synonymous in the public mind with the WWE, Vince McMahan’s counterfeit version.
Not surprisingly, lots of people agree that it’s a bad idea. A white house petition has generated nearly 24,000 signatures, at last check, and the big names of wrestling are mounting a campaign to save their sport. Armenia’s wrestling head, Levon Julfalakyan, called the proposal a “betrayal” of the sport. Hopefully this swift, widespread reaction will prompt a change of heart.