MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

February 12, 2013

Olympics to drop wrestling in 2020


Phoenix staff, wire report

— The Olympics are turning its back on the roots of the games, as the International Olympic Committee shocked the sporting world Tuesday by voting to cut wrestling from the Olympics starting in 2020.

The decision was made via secret ballot during a Tuesday meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, where officials were discussing ways to “streamline” the Olympics.

Bobby Jefferson, the Muskogee High School coach, said the decision “will have a major impact from the lowest to highest level of wrestling in our country.”

“It blows my mind they would do something like that to the oldest sport known to man and that’s been around since the inception of the Olympics,” he said. “Sure, we have the World Championships, but the Olympics are such a big thing, especially in the United States.

“Hopefully, they’ll come up with something before it  has a real impact.”

The news hit home in Stillwater with an Oklahoma State wrestling program that has produced 16 Olympic medalists, the latest being a bronze medal by Coleman Scott in the 2012 London Olympics. The United States is the most successful active nation, with 50 all-time gold medals and 125 overall.

“One of the most disappointing things that I’ve learned today is that this decision came down among the executive committee of the IOC, and we had no representation from the United States on the executive committee,” said OSU coach John Smith. “How can you vote on a sport that [the United States] has dominated throughout time in the Olympics with [the United States’] medal count has been one of the highest of any sport and have no representation?

“The United States won the medal count and there’s no representation for our sport or our governing body in a vote. Nor did we have any idea that wrestling had a real threat of being dropped. There was no voice for wrestling in the decision making of the IOC.”

Many had assumed modern pentathlon would be the likely event to be dropped, the committee instead decided to eliminate wrestling, which has roots in the ancient Greece games and has been a part of every modern Olympics since they began in 1896.

American Rulan Gardner, who upset three-time Russian Olympic champion Alexander Karelin at the Sydney Games in an epic gold-medal bout known as the “Miracle on the Mat,” was saddened by the decision to drop what he called “a beloved sport.”

“It’s the IOC trying to change the Olympics to make it more mainstream and more viewer-friendly instead of sticking to what they founded the Olympics on,” Gardner told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Logan, Utah.

The executive board of the International Olympic Committee reviewed the 26 sports on its summer program in order to remove one of them so it could add one later this year. It decided to cut wrestling and keep modern pentathlon – a sport that combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting – and was considered to be the most likely to be dropped.

The board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission report that analyzed 39 criteria, including TV ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. With no official rankings or recommendations contained in the report, the final decision by the 15-member board was also subject to political, emotional and sentimental factors.

“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling; it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”

According to IOC documents obtained by the AP, wrestling ranked “low” in several of the technical criteria, including popularity with the public at the London Games – just below 5 on a scale of 10. Wrestling sold 113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available.

Wrestling also ranked “low” in global TV audience with a maximum of 58.5 million viewers and an average of 23 million, the documents show. Internet hits and press coverage were also ranked as low.

The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for 2020, but it is extremely unlikely that it would be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board.