Dear International Olympic Committee executive board:
I am writing to express my heartfelt support for your decision to eliminate wrestling from Olympic competition starting in 2020.
As you know, this was a controversial move that sparked backlash over the loss of a sport that was part of the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, when Jim McKay was just getting started.
The origins of wrestling can actually be traced back 15,000 years, with its essential themes of combat and conquest pervading the Greek and Roman empires as well as the Middle Ages.
If you ask me, though, all that history is overrated. Just because a sport is symbolic of basic Olympic ideals such as commitment, sacrifice and national pride, why feel obligated to prolong the tradition? Who needs singlets when you’ve got bikini-clad babes in beach volleyball!
Times are changing, after all. We need to think global when choosing Olympic sports and keep TV viewers riveted in an age of Internet immediacy. Like you, I believe the future is tied closely to pay-per-view modern pentathlon.
In fairness, I should make you aware that your decision to drop wrestling has been met with a small degree of derision in America’s heartland. In South Dakota and much of the Midwest, wrestling is part of an athletic culture that provides pride and purpose to small towns.
From the youth level on, gymnasiums filled with wrestling action help make winters bearable on the prairie, and South Dakota takes pride in shining through.
Randy Lewis of Rapid City won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling in 1984, and the Olympic tradition was carried on by Bill and Jim Scherr of Mobridge, Dennis and Duane Koslowski of Doland and Lincoln McIlravy of Philip, just to name a few.
Chasing a gold medal is the ultimate dream in wrestling, and seeing these athletes pursue that quest has provided South Dakota with some of its greatest athletic moments.
If the Olympic dream is taken away and college wrestling continues to be curtailed, folks say, what is to become of the sport? Well, there’s always pro wrestling, which seems like a nice opportunity if you know how to work a turnbuckle and use folding chairs as a weapon.
Just imagine the TV ratings when another South Dakota native, Brock Lesnar, makes his return to pro wrestling during the Olympiad, grabbing the ring microphone to call out his next foe from Kazakhstan or Belarus.
People don’t understand that picking and choosing Olympic events is a delicate process, and not every sport can make the cut.
I understand that modern pentathlon and field hockey beat out wrestling for the final spots in 2020, which makes perfect sense. When I think of spine-tingling Olympic moments, my mind is instantly drawn to the “Miracle on Grass” field hockey final between the Netherlands and Korea in 2000.
Some of the criteria used in your decision were TV ratings, tickets sales and global popularity. Though wrestling rose above other scrutinized sports in those categories, you correctly pointed out that FILA (the international wrestling federation) has no athletes on its decision-making boards.
The brilliant part of that assessment is that your decision-making board included Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president and an outspoken supporter of modern pentathlon, which combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting.
People sometimes ignore less-publicized Olympic ideals such as subterfuge, cronyism and greed, as if they bring shame to the flame.
I should warn you that wrestling supporters around the world — not just in America — have been inspired to action by the sport’s removal. To use a basic grappling term, they are preparing for a reversal.
Former Greco-Roman champion Khasan Baroev of Russia called the decision “mind-boggling,” and the controversy has led Iran to join forces with the United States to try to get the sport back in the fold. The last time the U.S. and Iran agreed on something, it was that Saddam Hussein was a jerk, so this is pretty historic.
Mostly, though, cutting wrestling is seen as a way to stick it to the Americans, and I congratulate you on your thinking. The United States has captured a record 113 freestyle medals, by far the most of any nation.
The possible drawback is that the controversy will cause some to lose interest in the Olympics, which is not something your committee wants. Nearly 220 million Americans tuned in to the London Games last year, a testament to our country’s media and marketing muscle.
But I don’t want to get preachy here. Even though your board works behind closed doors much of the time, I have full confidence that you know your stuff, despite the fateful decision to drop tug of war as a sport back in 1920.
Some observers find it interesting that tennis maintains its Olympic status and golf will be added in 2016. These are sports that have prominent professional tours and take on lesser importance during the Games, which is exactly the opposite of wrestling.
I keep telling people that Maria Sharapova needs more exposure and Phil Mickelson can use the Olympics as a tax write-off, but some folks are just small-minded.
As mentioned earlier, wrestling supporters still hope to get their sport reinstated. They will battle for a single opening in 2020 with baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu, a martial art.
Some fans are optimistic that the public outcry will allow wrestling’s Olympic tradition to endure. But because I know you guys and respect your reasoning process, my money is on wushu.