On February 12, 2013, wrestling was cut from the International Olympic Committee's core sports, putting it at risk of no longer being an olympic event starting in 2020. When I first read the news from Yahoo off my cell phone in a biology class at Duke University, I thought the story was a joke. I immediately went to google and everyone from ESPN to FoxNews was covering wrestling's demise. As a wrestler still competing, I thought this was impossible. Wrestling is at the core of the olympics right? It was one of the original sports. How did this happen?
It wasn't like cutting the wrestling from the olympic program was going to directly affect me as an athlete. I have as good a chance as those who don't participate in wrestling to make the olympic team, but as a member of the wrestling community, and someone whose soul has been ingrained by the sport, I was devastated. I wasn't upset for myself. I was upset for the American high school freshman with a dream, the 10 year Indian without shoes escaping thought of poverty by training, the future Russian champion who hasn't even been born...
Wrestling has forever changed me. Most people just look at the physical damage done to the body. Most people think we're crazy for going through with everything that goes into winning one match. At the highest level we work out multiple times per day, cut our food and fluid intake while closing in on competition, and often compete not just hurt, but injured just to simply have the glory of getting our hand raised. The physical hardships bring the lessons and mentalities that we otherwise would have never learn about ourselves. Wrestling teaches us the power of will, determination, hard work, courage, and is vastly reminiscent of the rigors of life itself.
With these life lessons in mind, the wrestling community pushed back, and showed the will power it forgot it had. Nations with vast political, social, and economic differences banded together to fight the IOC's decision. The federations of Iran, Russia, and the United States, three nations not a soul saw forming a tight bond, came together to lead the fight to have the right to stand on top of that podium. Celebrities and politicians came forward to join the cause. The life lessons that had touched me, were realized in the others who competed, whether it was at the olympics, NCAA level, or grade school. We joined as one people for one cause.
Yesterday the IOC voted wrestling back into the games as a provisional sport for 2020 and 2024. The reaction was met with applause, pride, and relief. I was happy, but I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be in the days before the decision. I didn't understand why? We won. We got our hand raised.
In a period of reflection I wondered if in the height and excitement of this victory we, the wrestling community, would once again become complacent. We had witnessed a period of disjointness in our sport. Constant rule changes, failures in communication, poor officiating, etc. were tearing apart what we all grew to love. I feared that winning the right to these new gold medals was going to lose us the bonds that brought us them.
As a kid I remember how close the wrestling community was. Two completely different people, whether it was because of race, socio-economic status, or sexual preference could enter a level playing field and respect one another. We respected and embraced one another at weigh ins as we saw each other sucked out. We shake hands before and after we compete, no matter the outcome, because we each had the courage to toe the line. We saw this in London at the 2012 Olympics. Jordan Burroughs of the United States and Sadegh Goudarzi of Iran, the gold and silver medalists respectively at 74 kg, embraced each other after the medal ceremony though their ways of life, and the politicians that represented their countries were at odds. That moment is a symbol for what the essence of wrestling is at its core.
As a wrestling community, we had lost that bond, and losing the pinnacle of the sport, the olympic gold, started to sew that tear back together. The leaders in our sport needed a wake up call in order to come together for the common good of our wrestlers. I can only hope the new and future leaders of the sport can maintain these bonds. We came together as one people for one cause. Our work is not done. As wrestlers, it's never done. Hell, Gable worked out the day after he won a gold medal.