The International Olympic Committee recommended earlier this month that wrestling be removed as a event from the 2020 Summer Games, and local wrestling enthusiasts are not happy about it.
The decision has created an uproar worldwide as people from the United States to Iran to Russia have spoken out against the thought of not having one of the modern Olympic's original sports on the event list.
The subject has been the topic of discussion in the U.S. for the past few weeks, gaining traction on a number of ESPN television programs and it has hit home in this wrestling-rich community, which has produced Olympic hopefuls J.D. Bergman and Shawn Contos.
|Ohio State wrestler C.J. Magrum (right) wrestling for the Buckeyes
at a Big Ten match held at Oak Harbor High School this winter.
With all due respect to table tennis, synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics, wrestling has much more credibility when it comes to being a part of the Olympic Games. The sport itself is a microcosm of what makes athletics great — it's about outworking your opponent, gaining leverage and outsmarting them, or as New York Times columnist Jere Longman put it, wrestling is about “one athlete trying to subdue another, not with equipment but with the fundamental use of the arms, upper body and legs.”
Quite simply, wrestling embodies the traits that make raw, unadulterated competition, of which the Olympic Games are based, so real and authentic.
Oak Harbor coach George Bergman, who in 20 years has built one of top programs in the state, says Olympic wrestling is important to the sport’s popularity.
“The epitome of wrestling is the Olympic tournament,” Bergman said. “In basketball, it's the NBA championship. A lot of these other sports, winning the gold medal is not the pinnacle of the sport but in wrestling it is. To take that away from (the wrestlers), it's a travesty.
“If there are 300 great sports,” Bergman continued, “have them all. Why are we eliminating them? Why should we put a cap on good sports? If they're all legitimate sports, put them in there. If they're worthy, they should all be in. It’s kind of baffling. The Olympics are two weeks long — extend it for another day or two.”
Bergman does, however, retain hope that the decision will be overturned.
“If people get involved and the media is involved and there is an uproar maybe the right thing will happen,” Bergman said.
And then there's the history.
Wrestling is one of the original nine sports that were part of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, a link that connects and strengthens the bond between the past and the present. It is also considered to be one of the oldest competitive sports known to man, having appeared as early as the ancient Olympic Games in 708 B.C.
In a recent interview with The Times, Cael Sanderson, the Penn State wrestling coach and a 2004 Olympic freestyle champion, says the bond between amateur wrestling and the Olympics is vital.
“When you think of the Olympics,” Sanderson said, “you think of wrestling. It was a marquee event in ancient Greece and in the modern Games. After running, it was the next sport to be part of the Games. Like track and field, the Olympics are the highest level. With some sports, it's just not as special.”
C.J. Magrum, a 2008 Oak Harbor graduate who is currently one of Ohio State's top wrestlers, was taken aback when he heard the news.
“I was very shocked and disappointed when I heard about the decision,” Magrum said. “Hopefully, something will be done. I know there are petitions floating around and everyone on the social networks is talking about it. Every wrestling website is backing our sport and there is worldwide media attention on the subject.”
Magrum noted that Columbus is the home to the Ohio Regional Training Center, a privately funded organization that helps to provide equipment and training facilities for Olympic hopefuls. J.D. Bergman, an Oak Harbor native, has trained at the center, making it part of his livelihood.
On top of that, wrestling is a sport active in numerous countries and it has the ability to help bring people from different nations together through the spirit of competition. In fact, at the 2012 Games in London, 29 different countries won medals in the sport, a sign that wrestling carries with it popularity throughout the world.
Sanderson summed it up best.
“When you have your Super Bowl every four years,” he said, “if you take that away, that's a scary thing.”