Feb. 12, 2013
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tom Brands on Tuesday cautioned against picking a fight with a wrestler. Earlier in the day, the International Olympic Committee picked a fight with the sport of wrestling…by dropping it from the 2020 Olympic Games.
The wrestling community was quick to mobilize: Within hours of the news, Brands, head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, was in touch with coaching rivals John Smith of Oklahoma State, Cael Sanderson of Penn State, Pat Santoto of Lehigh, as well as his former collegiate head coach Dan Gable. The speedy uproar from that group and others made a statement.
“It says that (the IOC) made a mistake, there’s no doubt about that,” Brands said at a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “You don’t want to pick a fight with a wrestler. Let’s add, let’s add, let’s add, and let’s find a way to be more inclusive.”
Brands is one of five former Hawkeye wrestlers to capture an Olympic gold medal. He is also the last Hawkeye to accomplish the feat, winning the 136.5-pound weight class at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
“I remember in 1980 or 1979, we didn’t have the Internet, but I found out pretty quickly what the pinnacle of the sport was when I started wrestling,” Brands said. “It was the Olympic Games.”
The IOC executive board decided to retain modern pentathlon and remove wrestling from its list of 25 “core sports.”
“I’ll never forget Feb. 12. That’s what I meant when it’s worse than death because you’re affecting the future. You’re affecting people that generations from now, they aren’t going to have an opportunity to wrestle in the Olympic Games. Are you kidding me?
UI head wrestling coach
The IOC board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program. Eliminating one sport allows the IOC to add a new sport to the program later this year. Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, goes back to the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.
“It’s worse than death, because you can’t control death,” Brands said of the decision. “I feel like we could have controlled this to some degree, get ahead of it a little bit.”
Brands said he doesn’t want to be critical, but mentioned that rule changes to international competitions like going to 2-of-3 periods was not a popular move, and mimicked the sport of judo.
“I don’t think you really want to go there,” Brands said. “That’s being critical. But we’ve got to fight. We’ve got to right a wrong, because it’s wrong.”
The board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission report that analyzed 39 criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy, and global participation and popularity. The final decision by the 15-member board was subject to political, emotional, and sentimental factors.
“There are some things that are kind of funny that are real odd coincidences there,” Brands said.
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 at the 2004 Athens Games.
Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, plus karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. 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 made at the IOC general assembly in September.
“You have to get people behind you, you have to do it smart, you have to do it educated, you have to do it professional, and you have to do it with some muscle as well,” Brands said. “We just have to move forward; we have to become unified as a world. In the (wrestling) world theater — if you want to call it that — there is diversity. There are all kinds of arguments for wrestling.”
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 be joining the program at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’ll never forget Feb. 12,” Brands said. “That’s what I meant when it’s worse than death because you’re affecting the future. You’re affecting people that generations from now, they aren’t going to have an opportunity to wrestle in the Olympic Games. Are you kidding me?