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Article updated: 2/21/2013 10:32 PM

A decision the IOC should wrestle with

By Kevin Schmit

As area wrestlers planned a joyous trip to the IHSA individual state tournament last weekend in Champaign, a faceless bureaucracy four thousand miles away crushed their dreams.

The International Olympic Committee made the stunning decision to eliminate wrestling from competition starting in the 2020 Games. Surprisingly, wrestling drew the short straw among fellow endangered sports field hockey and modern pentathlon.

Yes, modern pentathlon.

How could this happen? How did a sport dating back to the ancient Olympic Games, and picking up again at the start of the modern Olympic era in 1896, suffer such a cruel blow?

The IOC tosses out stats in an attempt to blind the senses and emotions. Wrestling sold only 97 percent of its available tickets at the 2012 London Games and averaged only 23 millions television viewers. Blah blah blah.

What it actually came down to, in true and unfortunate Olympic spirit, was backroom dealings that involved little in terms of the merit of any sporting event.

And, unfortunately, backroom dealings are not exactly on the radar for wrestling and its international governing body -- FILA, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles. In fact its lack of savvy schmoozing cost the head of FILA his job in the wake of the IOC's decision.

Part of the reason wrestling was eliminated stands as one of the sport's most admirable qualities.

Wrestlers are the last athletes to tout their own merit, to insist the spotlight be placed on them. In turn wrestlers do not have the resounding collective voice that impacts a political group like the IOC.

Why did modern pentathlon survive instead of wrestling? More than a few Olympic observers believe it was the influence of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former president of the IOC who also happens to be the vice president of modern pentathlon's governing body.

Wrestling has no such voice, although one may be brewing.

Every form of social media is buzzing with efforts to save Olympic wrestling. And not just in America but around the world.

For those who thought it'd be impossible to bring together the United States and Iran in a common goal, think again. The executive director of USA Wrestling was scheduled to travel to Iran this week to meet with Iranian wrestling officials to discuss a plan of action.

The scope of the issue is what's most amazing about the IOC's decision. Wrestling becomes the first sport eliminated by the IOC since baseball and softball were removed in 2005.

While an argument can be made that baseball and softball are not international enough for inclusion, wrestling is among the world's most inclusive sports.

Twenty-nine countries won wrestling medals in 18 Greco-Roman and Freestyle events at the 2012 Olympics in London. Four golds were won in the competition for women, who were welcomed to Olympic wrestling in 2004.

The groundswell of international support may be the boost the sport needs, Wrestling now joins baseball and softball, karate, roller sports, squash, wakeboarding and the martial art of wushu in applying for admittance in the 2020 Games.

It's unlikely, however, that the IOC would readmit wrestling right after excluding it.

Which leaves us with reality.

The trickle-down effect could be devastating in the United States, where many college wrestling programs already are hanging by a thread. Without Olympic competition, the situation will only get worse.

But as Glenbard North, Lisle, Montini and other programs prepare for the IHSA dual team state tournament this weekend in Bloomington, the potential for crushed dreams takes a back seat for the moment.

The grapplers will be too busy training as they always do. Out of the spotlight in a steamy wrestling room fit for only the most dedicated of athletes.

There is no sport more arduous and isolating in its training, yet no sport is more personally fulfilling than wrestling.

It's a shame the IOC can't recognize it.

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

kschmit@dailyherald.com

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