Olympics: Utah wrestlers grapple with move to drop sport
Craig LaMont knows what drives his sons to wake at 4:30 a.m. every morning and train when everyone else is still sleeping comfortably in their beds.
The Olympics. The shot at representing their country on the ultimate stage against the ultimate competitors with a shot at the ultimate prize a gold medal.
On Tuesday, LaMont, who serves on the national board for USA Wrestling, had to talk to his sons Grant and Taylor, stars at Maple Mountain High School, when they called in between class upset about news they never imagined to hear.
Wrestling, the sport that has been around since the ancient Olympics and helped shape the modern games, the sport that has produced gold medalists since the 1896 Games in Athens is being dropped.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive board removed wrestling from its list of 25 core sports Tuesday after reviewing the current 26 sports in the Olympic program. Wrestling was voted out from a final group that also included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey, officials familiar with the vote told The Associated Press.
"To them, the idea [of going to the Olympics] is very real; it's tangible" LaMont said of his sons, defending national champion wrestlers. "To me, it was like a death in the family. It's somebody taking the dreams away from your own kids."
Unlike football, basketball or baseball, wrestling has no professional league. The Olympiad is where the world's best have a chance to prove their skill and mettle against the best wrestlers across the globe.
"We don't have a professional outlet," said Ross Brunson, president of the Utah Amateur Wrestling Foundation. "Our outlet is the Olympics."
For Heber City native and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson, the move by the IOC is just another hurdle for the wrestling community to get hop over.
"I do think wrestling people are the strongest in the world, and they're resilient," Sanderson, head coach of the Penn State University wrestling team, told the Associated Press, "and we'll come out of whatever happens. But short term, yeah, it's sad."
Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. Those sports will be vying for a single opening in 2020. The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be in September.
"In other countries, wrestling is the most popular sport. On an international level, it is a huge deal. It's bigger than badminton," said Jeff Newby, executive director of the USA Wrestling-Utah.
To LaMont, wrestling is the Olympics. He has traveled worldwide for wrestling events and tournaments and seen first hand the effect the sport has on foreign relations and what it means to the world as a whole.
"I've seen the president of Azerbaijan, the president of Russia, the president of Bulgaria, I know they're not modern pentathletes," he said, "I know they're wrestlers."
Wrestling and the Olympics
• Has been part of the modern Olympiad since the 1896 Games in Athens, Greece
• Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year's London Olympics.
• Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion for a single opening in the 2020 Games. The others are a combined bid from baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.
• Heber City native Cael Sanderson won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.