The Times West Virginian

September 9, 2013

Fans cheer as wrestling survives near pin, returns to Olympic fold

Chris Day
CNHI News Service

STILLWATER, Okla. — One of the oldest sports in the Olympics, under threat of being put on a shelf, got new life Sunday when the International Olympic Committee returned wrestling to the line-up for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

About 50 athletes and supporters gathered at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for a "watch party" - to hear a presentation to the IOC on wrestling's behalf, along with bids for baseball/softball and squash, then to hear results of the secret-ballot vote that reinstated the sport.

Wrestling enthusiasts credited major changes in the sport made in the past six months for the IOC's change of heart.

"It has brought a lot of excitement back. The scores have doubled," said Coleman Scott, a bronze medalist at the London Games. "It's back to wrestling - what we love and grew up doing. … It will be awesome in the long run for us."

Lee Roy Smith, the hall of fame's executive director, said the IOC decision in February to recommend that wrestling be dropped from the Olympics proved "a blessing" for the sport.

"We could not have the reform, a revolution movement, without this," said Smith.

The IOC was under pressure to pare the Olympic line-up when it took the February vote - an especially surprising move given wrestling's classical history. A staple of the Greek Olympics, the sport has been part of every modern Games except those in 1900.

Reacting to the IOC decision, the president of the international wrestling organization, Raphael Martinetti, resigned. The wrestling organization has since revamped, elevating the roles of women and athletes in decisions. It has added weight classes for women in freestyle wrestling and adopted rules to make the sport easier to understand and more offense oriented.

The sport will be part of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With   Sunday's vote, it will be included as a provisional sport in the 2020 and 2024 Games. Smith said leaders of the sport's organization hope to return wrestling the list of core Olympic events.

John Smith, Oklahoma State University's wrestling coach, said Sunday's decision creates another Olympic memory for him. Smith won gold medals wrestling at the Seoul and Barcelona Games.

"This one was a great moment for me as a fan of wrestling," said Smith. "Obviously, I have had a chance to coach Olympic teams and be a part of that process after I wrestled, which was as enjoyable as ever. From this point forward, I am going to be a fan of wrestling. …

"I'm just really pleased that through this whole process that I learned how strong wrestling was throughout the world," he said.

Chris Day writes for the Stillwater, Okla., News Press.