IOC committing a big error if it follows through
Oregon State wrestler Chad Hanke woke up at 5:30 a.m. Feb. 12, and the first thing he did was check his phone for messages. By now it’s an almost reflex-like action for many of us in the digital age. Hanke checked his email. Then he got on Facebook, and he couldn’t believe some of the posts from his wrestling friends.
One wall post expressed outrage at the International Olympic Committee’s decision to drop wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games. Then Hanke read another. Eventually, Hanke tried to find confirmation for himself, and he read a story that detailed the decision to drop one of the original Olympic sports from the program.
“It ruined my day,” said Hanke, who graduated from Dayton High School in 2008. “I went to practice, and I wasn’t mentally there.”
For the wrestling fan, the Feb. 12 decision by the IOC to drop wrestling from the 2020 games came as a shock. But just imagine you’re a 23-year-old wrestler whose only goal for the past three years was to wrestle for your country in the Olympics.
“I had 2020 circled on my calendar,” Hanke said. “Things change. I don’t think this is completely over yet, but it’s a big blow to my future.
“It’s definitely part of the plan of what I was going to do for the next eight years. I wanted to qualify for Rio then do it again in 2020.”
Hanke is the No. 4-ranked heavyweight the country right now for the Beavers, and he’s coming of taking his Olympic redshirt to wrestle with the U.S. national team abroad in places like Ukraine. He finished second at the World Team Trials in 2011 and was fifth at the Olympic Trials in 2012, making him an up-and-coming athlete on the scene. With another three-and-half years to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Hanke said he thought he had a shot at making the games. Four years after that, he would have been in the prime of his career and ready for the international stage.
“I’m just one of many guys in the same boat,” he said.
The IOC’s decision is another hit to the sport of wrestling. Participation at the youth and high school level is as good as ever according to multiple reports by Sports Illustrated and U.S. Wrestling. It’s a different story at the collegiate level, where declining numbers and lack of revenue production make the sport an easy target for dismissal. Yes, wrestling isn’t quite dead yet. The move must be ratified in September by the full committee, but this first step is as telling as any about where the IOC stands.
Many people who I spoke with think the IOC ruling comes tainted with politics and corruption. Wrestling has an ardent fan base, but the sport doesn’t draw the revenue like the more mainstream sports do.
That doesn’t mean wrestling isn’t a merit worthy sport. Just the opposite, in fact. I don’t cover the modern pentathlon at Willamina or Dayton. Kayaking and sailing either. In fact, I wouldn’t have the foggiest clue what the five events are in the modern pentathlon. Same goes for the ancient pentathlon. There’s a reason schools still offer wrestling, and it’s not because it’s a dying sport. It’s a sport for the masses. People have been fighting and wrestling for millennia. It’s a cheap sport to compete in but one that taps into all of our most basic instincts. Fighting for physical dominance is such a primal instinct that watching a wrestling gives you a surge of adrenaline.
The saddest part of the IOC’s decision comes from the sport it’s adding starting in 2016: golf. Full disclosure, I am an avid golfer for nine months out of the year and watch it a lot on television, but I don’t think it has any business being a part of the Olympics. Professional golfers get paid millions of dollars and have four prestigious major championships they play for. The Olympic Games, apparently are just a chance for the IOC and a group of already wealthy athletes to get even richer.
The IOC should want sports that care about the Olympics. Sports like golf, tennis, soccer and even men’s basketball wouldn’t be hurt one iota if they were no longer a part of the games. They all have their own world championships, majors and the like. What do sports like wrestling have?
“We’re not football, basketball or baseball,” Hanke said. “The Olympics are our championship. When a young wrestler gets into this sport, they don’t get into it to make money or be famous. It’s all about the Olympic glory”
The highest accomplishment you can earn as a wrestler is a gold medal at the Summer Games. Winning gold makes a wrestler a legend. Not so in golf. A gold medal isn’t a green jacket. It’s a nice bonus, sure, but the real money for those sports lies elsewhere.
Despite the shock Hanke and other wrestlers received, the sport tries to move on. Hanke is finishing an extremely successful senior season at Oregon State and has already qualified for the NCAA Championships. The OSAA state high school wrestling championships begin today and run through Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland. If you have never taken the opportunity to watch some of the competition at the state meet, it’s spectacular. All six classifications are under one roof, and the event brings together the very best of sport and competition. Events like Oregon’s state championships or any dual meet in the Midwest give those in the know a sense of where the heart and soul of the sport lies. Yes, politicians making decisions based on money and TV ratings might overlook the timeless athletic event, but it won’t take the passion away from those who love it so dearly.
“Wrestling has a strong community,” Hanke said. “There will always be support.”