Wrestling removed from 2020 Olympics

Jordan Burroughs (left) of Sicklerville, N.J., won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling in the London Olympics.
Jordan Burroughs (left) of Sicklerville, N.J., won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling in the London Olympics. (MARWAN NAAMANI / Getty Images)
Posted: February 14, 2013

Rob Eiter was shocked when he heard the news.

International Olympic Committee leaders dropped wrestling from the Olympic program on Tuesday in a surprise decision that removes one of the oldest Olympic sports from the 2020 Games.

"It literally came from left field," said Eiter, a former U.S. Olympic wrestler and the fifth-year head wrestling coach at Penn. "It still hasn't really sunk in, to be honest."

The IOC executive board decided to retain modern pentathlon - the event considered most at risk - and remove wrestling instead from its list of 25 "core sports."

The IOC board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program. Eliminating one sport allows the IOC to add a sport to the program later this year.

"It would be a travesty," said Ryan McCormick, wrestling coach at Camden Catholic High School. "Wrestling has been in the Olympics for over a century. Many young men and women strive to be an Olympic wrestler and hope maybe they can one day represent their country. It will only hurt the sport and force more wrestlers into [mixed martial arts].

"Wrestling is such a true sport, the self-discipline and dedication it takes, the price your body and mind pay. Yet at the end, not one wrestler does it for money or fame."

Jordan Burroughs, a gold medalist in the 2012 London Games, said on his Facebook page that the wrestling community should fight back.

"As an Olympic Gold Medalist I feel an obligation to fight for the sport that I love most," wrote Burroughs, who is from Sicklerville, N.J. "I wouldn't be who I am if I allowed this to end without a fight. We have to rally. It may be out of our reach, but trying never hurt."

Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, goes back to the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens.

Camden Catholic senior TJ Miller, a former New Jersey state champion, called the move an international tragedy.

"In the United States, we have college wrestling to fall back on," Miller said. "Other countries are hurt more . . . because [Olympic wrestling] is what they live for. That hurts the sport as a whole."

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the organization has nothing against wrestling.

"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," he said. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports."

Adams said the decision was made by secret ballot over several rounds, with members voting each time on which sport should not be included in the core group. The figures were not disclosed. IOC president Jacques Rogge did not vote.

Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year's London Olympics. Women's wrestling was added to the Olympics for the 2004 Athens Games.

Americans have won a record 113 freestyle Olympic medals, by far the most of any nation. Though the United States had slipped in recent Olympic cycles, it bounced back with a pair of London Games gold medalists in Burroughs - possibly the best wrestler in the world - and Jake Varner.

Vic Stanley, the coach at Archbishop Wood High School, has been coaching the sport for 46 years.

"The IOC, in my opinion, is driven by the money," Stanley said. "They're going with the sports that are going to get the largest advertising revenue. That's why golf was added. They're following the money."

Said Council Rock South coach Brad Silimperi: "How can they eliminate the oldest sport in the world, one of the original sports contested at the first Olympic Games, not to mention one that the entire world competes in? What's next, the marathon going by the wayside?"

Wrestling will 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 (martial arts). They 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 conducted at the IOC general assembly in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It is unlikely that wrestling will be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board.

The last sports removed from the Olympics were baseball and softball, voted out by the IOC in 2005 and off the program since the 2008 Beijing Games. Golf and rugby will join the program in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Eiter was an alternate on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team and a 105-pounder in 1996 at the Atlanta Games, in which he finished eighth.

"To walk out there and show your pride and give your all," he said, "it was special."

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