Last winter, the amateur wrestling world was stunned when the International Olympic Committee announced that the sport would be dropped from the Olympics by 2020.
No one had seen that coming. Astonishment and anger gripped the wrestling community. Then they did what came natural. They fought against that decision. They had plenty of ammunition. Seventy-one countries were represented in wrestling at the London Games in 2012, and 72 medals were awarded in that sport.
Wrestlers and supporters from around the world became allies in the battle, including such unlikely partners as the United States, Russia and Iran.
Wrestling had been part of the original games in ancient Greece and has been included in every modern Olympics except 1900.
Contrast those emotions in February with the euphoria throughout wrestling’s worldwide community when the IOC reinstated wrestling for 2020 during a vote [Sept. 8]. The committee cast 49 votes to reinstate wrestling. Baseball/softball got 24 votes, and squash received 22. Evidently the IOC came to its senses.
IOC President Jacques Rogge acknowledged that “wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months.”
University of Northern Iowa head coach Doug Schwab was part of the crowd that had gathered at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame/Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo to await the decision. He said he was proud of the way the world wrestling community came together.
“Wrestling’s response from day one has been, ‘We’re going to fight for this then,’” Schwab said. “We were going to do the things necessary to keep it in the Games, and I know when we heard it [the decision in February] everybody put their hands up and were ready to fight, but we got smart, too, and made some changes that were necessary. Now we have a stronger sport.”
For its part, the international governing body of wrestling made some significant changes. That includes new rules and scoring that make it less confusing, and which will reward aggressive wrestlers, in an attempt to make it more exciting for fans. Women’s wrestling will also have a larger role in the decision making within the organization.
In Dan Gable, Waterloo had its own Olympic champion. He had an amazing run to Olympic gold in 1972 after a legendary career at Waterloo West and Iowa State University. His unmatched coaching career at Iowa followed.
Back in February, he and other notable wrestlers and coaches in Iowa, the nation and the world vowed to fight on.
Perhaps, because of wrestling’s long history in the Olympic Games, the sport’s participants and followers had become a bit complacent about their spot in the Olympic lineup. That decision back in February woke them up. They’ll be on their toes from now on.