Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Wrestlng belongs in the Olympics

A few days ago the news was out that wrestling was deleted from the 2020 Olympics.  I fear most North Americans did not spend much time watching it, but that is a shame.  Amateur wrestling is not the theatrical version that has taken over our culture.  While thinking about this I watched Carol Huynh, an Olympic gold medal in woman's wrestling ably defend a book on Canada Reads.

One of the very most impressive athletic feats I ever saw was while attending University of Guelph.  My interest in wrestling was not very strong, but it was one of the few sports that Guelph excelled at.  I watched Ed Millard in the heavyweight category go up against a big wrestler who had played professional football.  The bigger man (by 40 pounds as I recall) at one point early in the match picked up Ed Millard and it looked like he was going to throw Ed down.  However when they came down Ed was on top and quickly pinned the guy.  Ed made it to the Olympics, but I don't recall him coming close to a medal.

Lambton Hall, my residence attracted a lot of interesting characters.  Stan Jemec was a floor mate at one time and I learned he had in a dual meet wrestled in 3 weight categories.  He lost weight to drop down one weight class and won, wrestled in his own weight class and won and most amazingly won in the weight class above him.  That is strength and skill.  Another wrestler from Lambton Hall had lost a match to an older amateur although he had been winning until he made a mistake.  This older man (I would say about 60) had been a Greco-Roman wrestler where the emphasis is above the waist and when he got his opportunity he was able to reverse and pin his younger opponent.  That shows that skill  and experience is very much a factor.

My Guelph wrestling heroes inspired me to watch the sport in the Olympics and start to appreciate the skill.  A lot of grunting and sometimes it seemed truly tortuous but in the end strength and skill triumphed.

Wrestling started in the ancient Greek Olympics in 708 B.C.  It was later made the decisive event of the ancient pentathlon.  Wrestling was included in the modern Olympics starting in 1896, with an omission in 1900 and then continued right up to the 2012 London Olympics.  Free style wrestling added in 1904 and a century later women's wrestling started.  29 different nations shared wrestling medals in the 2012 Olympics.  Recently it was pointed out that wrestling is one of the few things Iran and the United States can agree is important.  Americans were in Teheran this month for an international wrestling tournament.  Ping pong helped warm up American relations with China, perhaps wrestling can help thaw out relations with Iran.

Wrestling is a very popular sport at a participant level.  In 2006 wrestling was the 6th most popular sport in American high schools with girls just getting started.  A problem is that professional wrestling has become a spectator theatric that in some ways detracts from participation, but also makes real wrestling seem boring.  Tv ratings is a major factor in choices by the Olympic committee.  Skimpily clad women beach volleyballers do disproportionately better.

There are actually an increase in the number of combat sports and each has its own merits, but wrestling is very basic and accepted around the world.  Doesn't require special equipment like bats or balls.  Elevate Olympic wrestling and it will encourage physical fitness.

A good wrestler is something to behold.   Maybe more of us have to understand and appreciate it more.  It certainly reminds me of some good times in my student days.

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