Editorial: Olympians discuss wrestlingâ??s demotion
It has been nine years since I taped on my wrestling shoes, but I can still smell the freshly mopped mats.
The memory alone makes my fingers strike harder at the keyboard. I can still feel the adrenaline.
I imagine that scenario holds true for almost every wrestler; past or present.
Life's greatest challenges are not easily forgotten. Neither are the tools that teach us how to overcome said challenges.
Tuesday, it was announced that the sport of wrestling was dropped from the list of "core Olympic sports."
My reaction was probably just like yours:
Within moments of learning the news, I sent a text.
Within seconds, I placed a call.
Within hours, I watched a twitter revolution unfold (#SaveOlympicWrestling).
Suddenly, the acronym 'IOC' became viral.
The beast was awoken.
The first call I made that day was to a longtime friend, Jake Herbert, who represented the United States in the 2012 Olympic Games.
"Can't believe it," Jake said. "It's sad. Iâ??ve already received dozens of emails from kids telling me how wrestling has changed their life. How devastated this makes them.â??
During our conversation, there was the temptation to take shots at the other sports that maintained their Olympic status, but Jake and I refrained. That is not Jake's style.
Anyway, theorizing why other sports don't belong is much more difficult than pointing out the obvious: Wrestling is, and should always be, an Olympic sport.
"Every country in the world can afford to participate in it. All you needâ?¦two people and hard work," Jake added. "I can't even imagine the reaction in other countries. Russia, Iran...It's their national sport."
Another issue Jake touched on: The Gold Medal.
In Wrestling, there is no greater accomplishment than earning an Olympic Gold Medal. There is no Super Bowl. There is no World Series. There are the Olympics.
Jake was unfortunately unable to capture â??goldâ?? in England.
"A gold medal means a lot more to Jake than it does to Kobe Bryant," said Ty Moore, Angry Fish Wrestling Club.
Ty Moore, a four-time Pennsylvania High School State Champion with North Allegheny High School, trained Jake early in his career. "There was always one goal. Getting the Olympic gold. Period," Moore said.
All week, the wrestling world has been grappling over the sportâ??s Olympic demotion.
All the while, those at the center of the sport carry on. Push forward. And keep the sport alive.
â??I am in Azerbaijan right now coaching the team and getting ready for the World Cup,â?? said Cliff Keen Wrestling Club Coach Andy Hrovat.
Hrovat, a 2008 Olympian, put his thoughts down in a blog on Wednesday. â??Iâ??m not going to talk about what could have happened or what we as a sport could have done differently. I donâ??t think pointing fingers at this moment is the right thing to do, and it certainly is not a productive use of my time. What I want to talk about is why I love the sport of wrestling,â?? Hrovat said.
Later in his blog, Hrovat focused on the worldwide impact of wrestling. It is something that can be overlooked by those of us who never had their arm raised outside of the States.
â??I have been to places overseas where wrestling is an out. People choose to wrestle not because they are going to get an education like we get in the U.S.; they choose to wrestle so their families can eat or so they can become national heroes. We as a country sell ourselves short on this aspect of the sport. Becoming an Olympic champion is very hard to do. I tried my whole life to do it, so I know all that it takes. Putting it in perspective: there are 40 NCAA champions every four years compared to only seven freestyle Olympic champions,â?? Hrovat writes.
Uncertainty lingers as the weekend approaches.
Uncertainty about why wrestling lost its Olympic status. Uncertainty about what impact this will have on the future of the sport.
Already, there are petitions, with thousands of signatures, circulating the internet. They are the wrestling community's way of sending a message to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). But as fans rally the base, the future remains uncertain.
Although, one thing is clear: Wrestlers will not abandon the sport they bleed, starve and live for.
"Wrestling is not just going to stop. College wrestling is still so important in America. World Championships will not stop. Wrestling is a machine. I just feel bad for the little kids out there training, working hard. Their dreams of becoming an Olympic champion might be over. Not because of their ability. Because of the sport's new limitations," Jake said.