The shocking news came on the eve of the the Iowa High School State Wrestling Tournament, the grandest prep event of them all. The International Olympic Committee had thrown wrestling, the oldest sport of mankind, off the Olympic mat for the 2020 Games in St. Petersburg, Russia.
One of the original Olympic events, the first recorded Olympic wrestling match occurred in the 708 B.C. ancient games. Origins of wrestling can be traced back 15,000 years through cave drawings. It was also one of the first sports in the modern Olympics in Athens, Greece, in 1896.
One would think the Olympics would want to preserve its rich history. Instead the sport is unceremoniously being dropped while other obscure sports will make the cut.
With its 26th consecutive sellout, the numbing news drifted down at the state wrestling tournament, attended by 80,000 spectators over the half-week event. Wrestling defines Iowa as much as agriculture.
Just weeks ago, 15,000-plus packed Carver Hawkeye Arena on a frozen Iowa night to watch the No. 3 Hawkeyes take down No. 1 Penn State.
Just last April, 54,766 fans jammed Carver-Hawkeye Arena over four sessions for the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in Iowa City. Tickets for the 2013 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships March 21-23 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines sold out immediately. Wrestling is thriving at the high school level and hanging tough as it can at the collegiate level after years of Title IV and budget challenges. So why take away the Olympics?
What if Gable’s Olympic opportunity never existed?
Remember Dan Gable’s ultimate warrior image, standing atop the Olympic stand in 1972, hands on hips in his USA sweatsuit, looking forward, cauliflower ears bandaged, with the Olympic gold medal hanging from his neck. Imagine if that image never existed.
He looked like he’d been through a war. He had just won gold in the 1972 Olympics without surrendering a single point — an accomplishment compared to throwing two no-hitters in a World Series. He had been called the most dedicated, driven athlete ever seen. His training was legendary. The Russians had a national search to find someone to beat Gable and failed. His feat remains one of the most impressive in athletic lore, inspiring generations that followed.
That Olympic gold combined with his unparalleled coaching career at the University of Iowa, willing his teams into the most powerful dynasty in modern sports, solidified him as the most dominant coach-athlete in history.
Imagine if that Olympic gold medal opportunity had never been allowed to happen — the Olympic experience that made American culture identify him as the iconic ultimate competitor. Sure he would have won a world title, known to the small world of wrestling, but mainstream America would never have had the opportunity to witness and be inspired by his drive.
Gable embodied that Spartan mentality to reach the pinnacle and rouse the human spirit to greater heights of achievement.
But, now all-powerful and unaccountable members of the IOC in an anonymous, secret-ballot vote have decided to turn their backs on the historic sport of wrestling.