(AP) US wrestlers blindsided by Olympic ouster
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
Rulon Gardner’s epic upset of Russian wrestling great Alexander Karelin in 2000 remains one of the most compelling moments of the modern Olympics.
Starting in 2020, youngsters looking to Gardner and Karelin for inspiration won’t have a chance to excel on the sport’s biggest stage.
Gardner and nearly everyone else associated with the sport in the U.S. were jolted Tuesday when International Olympic Committee leaders dropped wrestling from the Summer Games.
The move is set to take effect for the 2020 Olympics and eliminates a sport that’s been a staple of both the ancient and modern games.
The decision by the IOC to phase out wrestling will leave the U.S. without one of its most successful Olympic sports.
The only sports in which the Americans have won more medals than wrestling is swimming and track and field – and those two have far more medal opportunities.
Americans have won a record 113 freestyle Olympic medals, by far the most of any nation. Though the U.S. had slipped in recent Olympic cycles, it bounced back with a pair of London Games gold medalists in Jordan Burroughs – possibly the best wrestler in the world – and Jake Varner.
Wrestling is also one of the most popular youth sports in the U.S. The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that the sport was sixth among prep boys with nearly 275,000 competing in 2010-11.
Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020.
USA Wrestling executive director Richard Bender calls his sport “one of the most diverse,” with nearly 200 nations from all continents participating.
The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020. The final vote will be in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Rejoining the Olympic roster for 2020 seems unlikely. Still, former Olympic champion and current Iowa coach Tom Brands said the international wrestling community needs to fight this ouster.
Reaction to the move was swift on social media. A Facebook page titled “Save Olympic Wrestling” was started Tuesday morning and had nearly 5,000 members by noon. A number of fellow Olympians also displayed their displeasure over the decision on Twitter by using the hashtag (hash)SaveOlympicWrestling.
Wrestling can be tough for the average Olympics fan to follow, which is why it rarely earns a TV slot in prime time. Its scoring system can seem complicated and arcane to newcomers. The medal stand is often dominated by athletes who aren’t nearly as marketable as gymnasts and swimmers.
Still, it produces memorable characters like Karelin, the prolifically strong three-time Olympic champion and hero in his native Russia. There are also American icons like Sanderson and Gardner, who beat Karelin and later survived both a plane crash and frostbite.