Last weekend’s state high school wrestling tournament brought together some of the most dedicated young men and women in Colorado to showcase a sport that is off the mainstream radar.
The hundreds of teenagers who competed in Denver spent months, maybe years, working on moves and strategy, running, lifting weights and sweating. During the season, many monitored their weight down to the ounce.
What’s more, they carved out a certain toughness they might not otherwise have known was there.
For most of them, their moments on the mats at the Pepsi Center would be the ultimate stage. But some of the young grapplers, no doubt, have aspirations to extend their wrestling careers. First, college. Then, if they can beat the odds, the Olympics.
But have the odds already beaten them?
As you may have heard, the International Olympic Committee voted on Feb. 12 to drop wrestling from the Summer Games following 2016. The sport doesn’t grab the headlines, the TV ratings or the ticket sales of many other athletic endeavors.
True, the only wrestling champion many people can name is Hulk Hogan, who performed in a professional, scripted version made for TV.
But the amateur sport, real wrestling, has history on its side, dating to the first modern Olympiad in 1896. Going back even further, more than 2,000 years ago, Greeks saw fit to grapple.
Wrestling ultimately took hold in many nations and continues as a true test of not only athletic aptitude but of one’s self.
Last summer, Forbes.com ran an article with the headline “Why wrestlers make the best employees.” The story began with a quote from Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable.
“More enduringly than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride. Some have wrestled without great skill — none have wrestled without pride.”
Who wouldn’t like to see more people in the workplace — and in the community — with greater self-control and more pride in what they do? If the Olympics serve as a source of motivation for young athletes to continue honing these traits, why take that carrot away?
There is still a fighting chance for the sport to appear in the 2020 games. In May, the Olympic committee will consider adding one more sport. Already, efforts are under way in the wrestling community to make sure their sport is the one.
There’s even talk of the United States and Iran working together for the cause, a true display of how sports can unite.
We won’t use this space to trash other sports, ones that could be kept out so that wrestling might stay. All sports, in their own way, teach pride and self-control when done right.
But consider this: LeBron James has the NBA Finals. Regardless of what well-intentioned players might say, high-profile professional sports reach their pinnacle within the confines of their league’s playoff tournament. Or in a global, sport-specific championship, such as soccer’s World Cup.
Amateur wrestling has major events that unite the world’s finest besides the Olympics. Did you know that? No? That’s the point.
Wrestling needs the Olympics’ stage. And the Olympics need wrestling to help it remain something the world takes genuine pride in, not just watches like so much reality TV.