Say it ain’t so
Slope grapplers lament loss of Olympic wrestling
The Western Slope wrestling community is in an uproar.
People with ties to the sport were flabbergasted when the International Olympic Committee decided to drop wrestling from the Olympic Games.
“I was very surprised,” said Lyle Wright, the Montrose High School athletic director and former state champion wrestler. “Honestly, it made me feel nauseous. It seems like, in my mind, the Olympics were created because of wrestling.
“To drop it was …” Wright added, shaking his head.
“The last Olympics they had trampoline. Really?! That many people watch trampoline? It makes me sick, especially for someone that grew up wrestling.”
Wrestling now joins seven other short-listed sports — baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu — vying for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic program as an additional sport, according to a release by IOC.
The eight sports are scheduled to make presentations to the Olympic Executive Board at its meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, in May. The board will select which of the eight sports to recommend to the 125th IOC Session for inclusion as an additional sport in 2020.
In an effort to ensure the Olympic Games remain relevant to sports fans of all generations, the Olympic Programme Commission systematically reviews every sport after each edition of the Games.
The United States has won more Olympic wrestling medals, a total of 125, than any other currently existing nation in Olympic history.
More than 8,000 men and women wrestle in some 235 NCAA programs, and more than 265,000 boys and girls wrestle in high school programs across America.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released a statement expressing its disappointment in the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation to drop wrestling.
In the statement, it said wrestling has been a core sport at the high school, college and Olympic levels for more than 100 years. Wrestling is the sixth-most popular high school sport in the U.S. Girls are showing more interest in the sport with more than 8,200 participants, according to the NFHS.
Wrestling was one of the original sports in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and more than 200 nations compete in the sport. In some states, one of the hardest tickets to get is for the state wrestling tournament.
High school wrestlers are well aware of the history.
“They can’t do that,” Grand Valley senior Cody Pfau said. “(Wrestling) is one of the original four Olympic sports. There already is a huge uproar.”
Pfau has realistic Olympic aspirations. She is a high school All-American and wrestled on the U.S. Women’s National Cadet (ages 14-17) team in the Pan-Am Championships last summer. She is looking at women’s college wrestling programs now.
“How can you take out the Olympics’ oldest sport?” Fruita sophomore Jacob Seely asked. “We couldn’t defend ourselves. We had no representation. I think that will be fixed in a hearing. It seems so corrupt to me the IOC would do that.
“I might not get a shot at a gold medal if I get that far in the sport. I want to get it back. It’s every wrestler’s dream to get a gold medal. It’s mine, too.”
Grand Junction coach Cole Allison dreamed of wrestling in the Olympics as a child and has wrestled thousands of international matches.
“It’s a bad deal to drop it,” Allison said. “I don’t think it will happen, really. There’s not a sport that represents the Olympics more than wrestling, in my opinion.”
Reasoning for the Olympics dropping wrestling circled around the lack of television viewership.
“I tried watching the Olympics, but I don’t have cable,” Palisade senior Justin Ray, a four-time state qualifier, said. “I looked for it every single day and I only saw one match. I think that had a major effect on (the decision). That was really disappointing.”
“They were saying it’s about money and people don’t want to watch it, but it seemed like, to me, it wasn’t put on necessarily at the best times for people to watch it,” Wright said. “It was almost put on in slots to fail.”
Allison said that, in 2008, he and two of his former Grand Junction wrestlers, Jessie Hoffschneider and Dylon Thompson, would get together to watch Olympic wrestling — at 3 a.m.
Allison fears dropping Olympic wrestling will hurt the sport that took a hit several years ago when colleges started dropping wrestling programs.
“I fear the repercussions,” Allison said. “It’s easy to drop if it’s not the biggest revenue producer. I worry about the trickle-down effect and the loss of college scholarships.”
Watching Olympic wrestling strengthened Seely’s love of the sport.
“I remember when I really got hooked on wrestling when I saw Rulon Gardner beat Alexander Karelin,” he said. “That’s my oldest memory of wrestling. I think that’s why I love the sport so much now.”