IOC needs to get grip, reconsider wrestling

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013

— There may have been tearing of clothes and gnashing of teeth.

There might have been an unrestrained cry of dismay that echoed across the Mighty Bluebird complex.

Greg Hatcher can’t be happy about the secret vote by the International Olympic Committee to drop wrestling, a sport that has been a part of the modern Olympics since 1896.

Heck, for all we know, the Olympics started when two guys disagreed about who got the last chicken leg and went hand to hand to settle the dispute.

For the past few years, Hatcher has been the driving force behind wrestling inArkansas.

He bought wrestling mats for almost every school willing to add the sport and has stayed involved mentally, physically and financially since.

There is a huge wrestling event Saturday at Central Arkansas Christian, and the state championships are Feb. 22-23 at the Jack Stephens Center on the UALR campus.

Wrestling is thriving in Arkansas.

It is a great sport and embraces the best of competition, one man vs. one man with only wits, skill and strength determining the winner.

Who could forget Kurt Angle, who sustained a severe neck injury - he fractured two cervical vertebrae - during the 1996 Olympic Trials, only to go on to win the gold medal in the heavyweight division that summer in Atlanta?

Or Rulon Gardner, who captured the hearts of Americans in the 2000 Games when he defeated Russian Aleksandr Karelin for the gold medal? Karelin had been undefeated for 13 years, and hehadn’t given up a point over the previous six years prior to his loss to Gardner in the gold medal match. Karelin had won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, although he had been challenged mightily by American Matt Ghaffari in 1996. (Ghaffari was the wrestler your trusty scribe ended up on a shuttle with and loudly explained how he would win after being asked about Karelin’s record.)

Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner won gold medals last summer, so this isn’t about trying to cut out a sport that Americans have dominated.

More than likely it is about TV ratings.

Far too often these days, history and tradition are playing lesser roles in athletics.

It would be impossible to change the atmosphere of Tuesday night’s basketball game between Michigan and Michigan State, but did it really need to start at 9 p.m. in the Eastern time zone where both schools are located? Or did Kentucky’s game at Florida need to start at dinner time in the Central time zone?

Why else would the International Olympic Committee decide to destroy one of the longest-running sports in history without consulting the world of amateur wrestling?

Wrestling organizations all over the country are outraged and demanding an explanation.

They deserve one, too.

When sports such as trampoline (yes, very similar to the ones you see in yards all across America), sailing, table tennis and BMX are official Olympic events and wrestling isn’t, then something is bad wrong.

Anyone could make a list of sports they would rather see cut, but the bottom line is the International Olympic Committee, which is allegedly unbiased, has made a terrible mistake.

Just ask Hatcher, who has personally led a rebirth of the sport in Arkansas.

Sports, Pages 19 on 02/14/2013