The news came out yesterday that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted to cut wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games. As expected, there was a lot of anger towards that decision. I think that anger was warranted.
The good news is it's not as simple as wrestling being dropped from the Olympics with no hope of it ever coming back. Here's a quote from IOC President Jacques Rogge: "The vote of yesterday is not an elimination of wrestling from the Olympic Games. Wrestling will participate in the games in Rio de Janeiro. To the athletes who train now, I say, 'Continue training for your participation in Rio. Your federation is working for the inclusion in the 2020 Games.'" (CBC)
Take a deep breath. It's not completely gone. There's going to be a final decision made in September where we'll know if wrestling will still be a part of the Olympic Games.
The question is why is it even on the chopping block? Wrestling is a sport that was in the first Olympic Games in Greece in 1896. As a son of Greek parents I can tell you how much the Olympics means to my family going back several generations. Wrestling is one of the sports that the Olympics were built on. It's a sport that defines what the Olympics are about just lack track and field is. And they want to take it away? That's not right.
When you talk about amateur sports in the Olympics usually it's a case of athletes competing in a sport either as teens, collegiate athletes or people at a young age where they are preparing for a professional career in that sport. Some of the competitors are already pros too. Pro wrestling, as usual, is a little bit different.
Pro wrestling, which is what we refer to what WWE does, isn't the same as amateur wrestling obviously. There are theatrics, they do what they can to entertain the audience and of course the results are predetermined. However, pro wrestling has a tie-in to amateur wrestling because there are many performers that come from the amateur field.
My issue with dumping wrestling from the Olympics is not even about me watching the sport. I can honestly say I don't watch it that much although in the Olympics I do. I'm a jock. I love watching sports with the "big four" North American sports (NFL - also college football, NBA - also college basketball, MLB, NHL) at the top of my list. I watch soccer (or world football) when they have their major international tournaments and also on a casual level as well. I also love the Olympics. Without question the track & field events are my favorite, but I try to watch as much as I can to soak in the experience as best I can.
The reason I pay attention to Olympic wrestling is because I enjoy watching athletes compete at the highest level. To see athletes busting their ass after years of training in their particular sport and trying to earn a medal for their country is inspiring. It's fun to see how happy those athletes are when they get on a podium and are presented with their gold, silver or bronze medal around their neck. A lot of times even athletes that finish out of the medals are proud of where they finished because they got to experience competing in the Olympics.
Personally, I never participated in wrestling. I tried it in high school just like I tried pretty much everything because I'm a competitive guy that loves sports. The ones I played the most were basketball and soccer, both of which I still play in my early 30s. After a couple of days of wrestling tryouts I didn't go anymore, but I always respected the athletes because it's not an easy sport.
When you think about pro wrestlers with ties to Olympic wrestling the first name that comes to mind is Kurt Angle. As I'm sure you've heard many times before, Angle is pro wrestling's only Olympic gold medalist. He won the gold for the United States in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics with, to quote him from a memorable promo, "a broken freakin' neck." Angle won the gold in the 100kg (220 pounds) weight class. If you've never seen it here it is:
Kurt Angle's story is a long one, but here's the short version. After winning the gold Angle had a tough time finding a career he liked. He tried sportscasting as well as doing commercials. Nothing really stuck for him. He attended an ECW event in late 1996, but he didn't like it and spoke poorly about pro wrestling after it. Then in late 1998 he signed a deal with WWE. For the next year he trained to wrestle, adapted to it very quickly, worked house shows and debuted at Survivor Series 1999, an event that I witnessed in person in Detroit. I thought it was interesting that WWE would debut him as a villain, but then I saw the brilliance behind it. He went out there, got booed because he was a cocky jerk and then he would rip on the audience for booing a guy that won a gold medal for their country. Normally people are appreciative of athletes that win a gold for their country, but not in pro wrestling if the guy is a jerk. It worked. That night I knew he would be a star, but I didn't know how great he would become.
From there you know the Angle story. He had what I would consider the best rookie year in wrestling history. Within one year he went on to win multiple titles including the WWE Title as he beat The Rock at No Mercy 2000 in October. By the end of 2000 he was one of the best in-ring performers in the company. From 2001 to 2005 to me he was the best performer in the company whether he was a villain or a hero. In 2006 he left WWE and has been the biggest name in TNA Wrestling ever since.
Angle is one of my five favorite wrestlers. Why? Because not only is he an outstanding in-ring performer, capable of cutting great promos and elevating others around him, but he also worked as hard as anybody I've ever seen. His intensity is off the charts. The best part about Angle is that his competitive nature makes his matches feel "real" and isn't that what pro wrestlers should try to do? It's not like he was given a push just because he won a gold medal. He earned everything he got in pro wrestling. Does he currently tweet some silly things? Yeah, but that doesn't take away from his amazing career as a pro wrestler.
I applaud Angle's current employer TNA Wrestling for the article on their website about the issue. In the article, Angle commented on the matter:
“Wrestling is one of the most competitive sports in the world today. Winning the gold for my country in one of the original Olympic sports was one of the greatest moments in my life. The wrestling community is in a state of shock with this decision – we cannot sit back and allow this to happen. I will do whatever it takes and work with my company TNA WRESTLING and the competitive wrestling community to determine what we need to do to reverse this decision.”
The article also saw TNA encourage WWE to get involved in this issue to try to spread the word about how important Olympic wrestling is. I hope WWE gets involved because they're the biggest wrestling organization in the world and their reach can't be touched by anybody. As a company that has hired many of them and continually scouts amateur wrestlers, WWE knows how important they are to the success of their company.
There was also former WWE Champion The Iron Sheik, who competed for Iran in the 1968 Olympics and later became a coach for the United States. Eventually he made his way to the World Wrestling Federation where he became a legend known for making people humble.
Over the years there have been a number of outstanding collegiate wrestlers that didn’t make it to the Olympics, but they had those dreams just like Angle. Names like Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler to name a few. When I say a "few" I mean it. There are dozens of wrestlers past and present with ties to amateur wrestling, not only at the collegiate level but also in high school as well. (I could write a lot about MMA competitors with amateur wrestling backgrounds too, but I want to keep the focus on pro wrestling.) In a lot of cases, if you watched pro wrestling on television you were likely drawn to amateur wrestling because there are similarities there.
What was the goal for those amateur wrestlers? The Olympics. If you take that opportunity away from athletes just because the IOC deems field hockey, modern pentathlon, taekwondo and canoe kayaking more important (those events were in the final voting) then you're not encouraging the youth to participate in sports. Isn't that what the Olympics are supposed to be about? To teach kids to follow their dreams, reach the highest level and compete to win a model for their country? That's what it's about to most of the world. It shouldn't be about money.
Here's the fact about wrestling that really sticks out to me: Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year's London Olympics. They also added women's wrestling to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games. There were 29 countries that won medals in wrestling events in the London Games. It's truly a worldwide sport, yet they're going to take it away? It doesn't make sense to me.
I think amateur wrestling is the kind of sport that teaches athletes how to train the right way, work hard and gain discipline from a young age. Obviously going from amateur wrestling to a pro wrestling career is not an easy transition, but I think those that could adapt learned a lot from their training. It would be nice if athletes could still have those same Olympic dreams rather than having them taken away because some old guys in charge aren't as supportive as they should be.
It's cool to see that the Keep Wrestling in the Olympics page on Facebook has over 60,000 likes in a day. That's great. Go like it, visit it and read the posts they are making because the only way this decision is going to change is if the fans of competitive sports speak their mind on this subject. There are petitions out there too. You can also tweet the IOC at @IOCMedia although I doubt that's going to work very well since it looks like one of those corporate accounts that merely links to news without ever talking to people.
There are two petitions I'd suggest signing. One is the WhiteHouse.org petition, which has over 17,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon. There's also a Change.org petition that has over 23,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon. I've never been a big petition guy, but for something like this I had no problem putting my name on there.
The reason I wrote this is because I love pro wrestling. As somebody that loves "this business" (Triple H's favorite phrase) I realize how important amateur wrestling is to the form of entertainment that I enjoy watching so much every week for over 25 years of my life.
If you're a fan of pro wrestling then you should do your part to have your voice heard because it has an effect on all of us. Hopefully when the final decision is made in September we'll see that wrestling remains an Olympic sport in 2020 and beyond.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
John Canton - firstname.lastname@example.org