The Comeback Kids
The decision to put wrestling on the Olympics chopping block has renewed enthusiasm for the sport.
Wrestlers with Wagoner's program practice during the 2012-2013 season.
Photo by Heath Sharp.
Editor’s Note: In March 2013, Oklahoma Magazine published “Guts And Glory,” a feature story on Oklahoma’s long and illustrious relationship with wrestling and the sport’s place in our culture. Just as the March issue hit newsstands, the International Olympic Committee announced its intention to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport. The outcry of public support for wrestling prompted this follow-up piece. You may read the original article here.
The “soul mate” of the Olympic movement is still on the chopping block for the 2020 Olympics with 177 nations strong.
On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee held its first round of votes in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Wrestling passed the first of several rounds with eight of the 14 votes, meaning it will move on to the final vote on Sept. 8 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In February, the IOC’s original decision to cut wrestling was short-lived, as local and international support rallied for change and even helped to transform the sport, from the highest leadership role to the rules of the game. Complaints about the sport ranged from Greco-Roman style and both genders not being equally represented.
Thus, the decision caused the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles to replace its president and reform the rules of wrestling to be more exciting and entertaining.
“The IOC’s decision certainly got our attention,” says Leroy Smith, head of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater.
With the Olympic heritage in the state of Oklahoma being the way it is, totaling 65 Olympians, 21 medalists and 13 gold medalists, its wrestling record rivals any sport and any state. On May 15, the Oklahoma House signed a resolution that the IOC reinstate wrestling, in which it traces wrestling back to 3000 BC, making it the world’s oldest sport. On the same day, the U.S., Russia and Iran made headlines for its world tour to wrestle in public spaces, starting in Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal and eventually making their way to Tulsa.
Shawn Jones, head wrestling coach at Broken Arrow High School, says international movements like this one have made a sweeping difference, but the decision has yet to have much of an affect on wrestlers at home.
“As far as the community, the decision has been a great awakening for the sport, and rule changes will make it more appealing,” he says. Jones believes that wrestling has a strong contingency, and the IOC will overturn its decision simply because of the strong support across the world.
Cass Cagle, little league wrestling coach, says locally he bought UFC tickets that went toward saving wrestling.
“I don’t see how they can take out the first sport ever in the Olympics,” Cagle says. "Because there is professional wrestling, the Olympics are something for athletes to strive for.”
“Right now our intent is to be restored. It won’t be the end of wrestling, but it would be a blow to youth’s dreams,” Smith says.
Yet, he feels favorable about the upcoming decision.
“We didn’t criticize them [the IOC], but we responded well.”