The International Olympic Committee’s vote in Buenos Aires Sunday to put wrestling back on the Olympic programme for 2020 and 2024 after deciding in February to remove the sport from its list of core sports after the 2016 Games was met with a range of emotions and opinions.
Olympic wrestlers weigh in
Wrestlers who earned medals at Olympics as recently as last summer, or decades ago, were understandably excited in their reaction to Sunday’s IOC vote.
"That was harder than a wrestling match for me," Coleman Scott, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist – and Oklahoma State mat alum -- said. "It's been a long process, and I was nervous all morning. We had a good presentation and a very good panel, and I'm glad we didn't take it lightly. There were a lot kids watching with us today and this was for them."
Dan Gable, 1972 gold medalist at the Munich Games, didn’t seem too surprised by the IOC decision, saying. "All things just pointed in that direction. It's almost like you expected that to happen. But we certainly didn't expect what happened in February to happen, and because of that you learn and work through the whole process."
Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, said, "I think the message that was sent down today from the IOC was since wrestling has been in the ancient games, as well as the modern games, we shouldn't be trailing; we are expected to be leading. Winning the majority vote back in May to forward us to today's decision and winning the majority of the vote today was huge for us, and gives us a second opportunity to do it well."
Another head coach and Olympic gold medalist, Tom Brands of the University of Iowa, offered an upbeat analysis of the situation, stating, “We’re a better sport now than we were in February and I think the IOC recognized that with today’s decision. I’m glad the vote turned out the way it did, and I credit our new governing body and the people who fought for inclusion for getting the job done.”
Tom Brands’ brother Terry, Iowa Hawkeye associate head coach, appeared to give credit to a higher authority. “I’ve always thought, with divine intervention, we were going to be in good shape, because Jacob wrestled the angel. It’s a sport close to God’s heart. I believe that. I believe there was divine intervention, and I believe that we had a great vision, from the second that we heard, with Jim and Bill Scherr and the CPOW (Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling) group. I think it was awesome. I think they had a vision that was untouchable.”
Jordan Burroughs, two-time NCAA champ for University of Nebraska, who won the gold medal in freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, posted these messages on his Twitter account @allIseeisgold: “Wrestling is back at the Olympics!” and “Thanks for all the support everyone! What a great day!”
Burrough’s teammate Jake Varner, also a gold medalist at the London Games and two-time NCAA champ for Iowa State, expressed his enthusiasm succinctly, writing “Awesome! Wrestling is back in!” at @jakevarner211.
Clarissa Chun, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, expressed her appreciation for the efforts of others on Twitter @ClarissaChun, saying, “We are back in for 2020!!! Thank you to all the supporters across the world!!! And to all the countless volunteer hours to save wrestling!”
Penn State head wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, who earned his gold medal in freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics, also gave thanks, posting at @CaelSanderson: “Thank you IOC for putting WRESTLING back in the Olympic Games!!”
FILA gives thanks
FILA – the international wrestling federation – was most appreciative of the IOC decision to ensure wrestling’s place at the 2020 and 2024 Olympics.
"Today is the most important day in the 2,000-year history of our sport. We feel the weight of that history. Remaining on the Olympic program is crucial to wrestling's survival. ... We have made mistakes -- we admitted -- but we decided to listen and learn,” said FILA president Nenad Lalovic.
“I want to offer my sincere gratitude to each member of the International Olympic Committee that voted to save Olympic wrestling today. With this vote, you have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference. I assure each of you that our modernization will not stop now. We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic Movement that we can be.”
President Lalovic continued, “I also wish to offer my appreciation and admiration to the leaders and supporters of the squash and baseball/softball bids. Each of their campaigns was well organized and showcased a passion for their respective sports.”
Varied opinions from IOC officials
Officials from the International Olympic Committee offered up a wide range of assessments on Sunday’s vote… and how the organization got to this point in the first place.
Current IOC president Jacques Rogge – about to leave his post – said, "Wrestling has shown great passion and resilience in the last few months. They have taken a number of steps to modernize and improve their sport, including the addition of more women and athletes in decision-making positions; rule changes to make the sport more exciting and easy to understand; and an increase in the number of women's competitions. We are pleased with their reaction and happy to have wrestling on the Olympic program in 2020 and 2024."
Thomas Bach, current IOC vice president who is a leading candidate to become president this week, said, "Wrestling represents the tradition of the Olympic Games, and the Olympic program has always to be a balance between tradition and progress. Wrestling is a pillar of our history and represents tradition like no other sport."
"The presentation they delivered earlier today provided a reminder that wrestling is a foundational Olympic sport and, while it has its ancient roots, the reinvigorated sport of wrestling still has an exciting and important role to play in the Olympic program," said Singapore’s Ng Ser Miang, an IOC vice president.
Some IOC officials appear to have been in the pro-wrestling camp even before Sunday’s presentations. Kuwaiti IOC member Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah said, "We cannot imagine the games without wrestling. Wrestling is a founder. Today was a great result."
Others may have not been as enthusiastic. "I think it was a very clear-cut decision. I think history was on their side. I think they made the appropriate changes, but all three deserved serious consideration," according to Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper.
And, at least one IOC member appeared to wonder aloud why the organization found itself in the place where it was at Sunday’s vote.
“The result is we are back where we started and they've spent a lot of time and energy -- emotional or otherwise -- in a process that was pretty well doomed,” said Dick Pound, Canadian IOC member. “This doesn't happen in the IOC too often, but that vote is to tell the executive committee: you made a mess of this and we're going to fix the mess and we've got to figure out another way forward."
Possible future Olympians look forward
“It’s huge news,” said Derek St. John, 2013 NCAA champ for University of Iowa. “Obviously it’s huge, or there wouldn’t be a lot of people here (at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where wrestling fans gathered to watch the IOC vote). It’s big for the future of wrestling from the college level, all the way down to little kids, and all the way up to the Olympic Games. It’s huge for the future of the sport.”
"It's my future," said Oklahoma State wrestler Alex Dieringer. "I'm really excited knowing that I'm going to be able to continue following my Olympic dreams."
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