By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
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.
“It’s devastating. I’ve never been directly involved in the Olympic part of wrestling ... but in one fell swoop to take that all away, I’m afraid to even think that it may be the beginning of the end of the sport I’ve spent my entire life being a part of,” said Stillwater High wrestling coach Doug Chesbro, son of former Oklahoma State wrestling coach Tommy Chesbro.
“I hope that I’m wrong. I absolutely hope that I’m wrong, but the bringing down of an empire has to start with one small chink in the armor — and this is a pretty big blow.”
The decision was made via secret ballot during a Tuesday meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, where officials were discussing ways to “streamline” the Olympics.
The news drives home here 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.
“My first reaction this morning was emotional. It was a tough, tough 15 minutes because I didn’t know at the time that there was an opportunity to fight back,” said OSU wrestling coach John Smith, an Olympic gold medalist and former Olympic coach.
“I didn’t know at the time that we can win this battle. It just made me sick to think that the opportunity for 14, 15, 16-year-old kids who have thoughts about being an Olympic champion is erased. We may only be talking about a handful of kids. It made me sick. As the day went on, I got stronger. I was on the phone a lot today with not just people in this country but all over the world. We’re all ready to stand together.”
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.
Each of the Summer Games’ 26 core sports were reviewed and at-risk. Wrestling will now have to face off with seven other sports that are fighting for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. The Associated Press said it is “extreme unlikely” wrestling would return so soon after the committee voted to eliminate the event.
“I’ve studied this at length and written paper after paper at given times in my education, and of the original sports, it was one of them — there was wrestling, combative sports and track and field, that was it; that was the Olympics,” Chesbro said. “Now it’s spread out to so many things that it seems like they have to keep up with modern society and having things like kayaking with man-made waterfalls and they are looking at golf and things like that.
“That’s all fine, but why turn your nose to tradition and just say wrestling doesn’t matter any more? It’s just bizarre to me that the original sport, the oldest sport known to man is no longer going to be involved in the biggest sporting event known to man.”
The news has been a hot button topic on Twitter for locals, with Scott tweeting “Wrestling has a lot to do with who I am today! #saveolympicwrestling.” OSU wrestler Jordan Oliver, a NCAA national champion and Scott’s wrestling partner at the Olympics, tweeted “Can’t believe that’s even a thought about dropping wrestling from Olympics ... what?”
Chesbro said with wrestling being removed from the Olympics, the only “professional level” for the sport, there could be a trickle down effect at the college level — and even down to the high school level.
“My immediate fear is, how long is it going to be before college programs increase their frequency in dropping programs and as soon as that happens, when does the trickle down theory effect high school wrestling?” Chesbro said. “If they are going to do it at that level, how much longer is it going to be before it trickles down to me? I’m being selfish thinking that way, but I’m thinking about the sport overall and how high school wrestling goes.
“If there is no Olympic wrestling, it makes you question why there should be college wrestling. If there’s not college wrestling, then why should there be high school wrestling? It’s fearful. I’m in fear right now for the sport of wrestling in our country.”
While Chesbro is fearful of the future, Smith had a simple response for those young wrestlers who have dreams of becoming Olympic champions.
“To any young kid who hears there’s not going to be wrestling in the Olympics, keep fighting. Keep working. Keep training. I’m going to fight for you,” Smith said. “There’s only one option with this decision and that’s to get it overturned. I’m going to live every day to make a difference in that final decision.”
(Video from OSU Athletics YouTube Channel)