Keep wrestling in the 2020 Olympics
The Kansas City Star
The International Olympic Committee Executive Board voted last month to drop wrestling from the list of 25 core sports included on the program for the 2020 Olympics.
Since then the wrestling community has banded together to defend one of mankind’s oldest sports. The path forward will be difficult, but Olympic wrestling can still be saved.
Two months from now the Olympic committee executive board will recommend one sport for a final spot on the 2020 program. In late summer the entire committee will then meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to vote on the recommendations.
A final decision to cut wrestling would affect wrestlers worldwide, including the thousands of kids’ club, high school and college wrestlers from the Kansas City area. One of those wrestlers is Dom Bradley, a University of Missouri-Columbia grappler and former Blue Springs High School star who is currently the top-ranked heavyweight in the NCAA.
Bradley follows in the footsteps of other successful area wrestlers, including NCAA champions Zach Roberson (Blue Valley Northwest) and Mark Ellis (Raymore-Peculiar) and NCAA runners-up Shawn Bunch (Leavenworth) and Joe Johnston (Shawnee Mission East). Mizzou has produced a crop of fresh talent in recent years, led by two-time NCAA champion and 2008 Olympian Ben Askren.
Young athletes competing in football, basketball or baseball dream of making it to the pros. Wrestlers dream of the Olympics, where the sport was a marquee event in the first Olympiad more than 2,500 years ago.
Today athletes from nearly 200 nations participate in wrestling. Gold medals in the London games went to wrestlers from countries as geographically, ethnically and politically diverse as Russia, Japan, Iran, Cuba, Korea and the U.S.
Wrestling teaches and tests an array of important virtues, including courage, self-discipline and perseverance.
As the legendary American wrestler Dan Gable is fond of saying, “Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.” Gabel exaggerates, but not much.
For those willing to learn, wrestling teaches a lifetime’s worth of lessons. Participants must master their appetites and control their emotions, accept responsibility for their decisions and avoid overconfidence, set goals, and work hard to achieve them. Everything in life is not easy after wrestling, but wrestling does make life easier (and better).
And, anyone can compete. There is no perfect body type or height and weight combination. Kyle Maynard — a congenital amputee born with no arms or legs past the elbow and knee — won a 2004 ESPN Espy award after compiling an impressive 35-16 record during his senior year of high school wrestling.
Two years ago Arizona State’s Anthony Robles won an individual NCAA national championship, despite being born with only one leg. Successful wrestlers have been short, tall, light, heavy, blind, deaf, black, white — you name it.
These two factors have endeared the sport of wrestling to millions worldwide, including some of the most prominent figures in the Western tradition. The Greek philosopher Plato and the biblical Patriarch Jacob were accomplished and devoted wrestlers. So, too, were Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
During my years as a wrestler — first at the East Kansas wrestling club, and then at Olathe South High School and the University of Oklahoma — I took great pride in being part of a tradition that extended across time, geography, culture and custom. That tradition will survive regardless of the International Olympic Committee’s final decision, but it will be a tragedy for the sport and for the Olympic games if wrestling is not on the final program in 2020.
Justin Dyer is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. To reach him, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108.