There's no pot of gold at the end of most wrestling careers. Now there may be no gold medal, either.
The International Olympic Committee dropped wrestling from its core sports for the 2020 Summer Games on Tuesday, leaving the United States wrestling community saddened, but also preaching patience.
"Everyone is preaching doom and gloom," Old Dominion coach Steve Martin said. "I'm waiting to see how it plays out."
Like much of the wrestling community, Martin was surprised when he heard from one of his assistant coaches Tuesday morning. Wrestling has been included in every Olympics except for one since 1896 and is one of the world's oldest sports despite being cut in favor of newer additions such as modern pentathlon and taekwondo.
"It's going to eliminate some of the role models," Great Bridge coach Matt Small said. "I have a wrestler, Amir Horton, and he follows a guy like (U.S. Olympian) Jordan Burroughs on Twitter. He has his dreams, he's very positive, he's a clean-living guy. Some of my guys have taken his slogan, 'All I see is gold,' and made it their own."
Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for one opening in 2020. The others are baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.
Gray Simons, a former wrestler at Granby High, ODU coach and Olympian in 1960 and 1964, hopes the IOC will reconsider such a radical break with tradition by the time the sports are set.
"There will be some backlash," Simons said. "We'll see how it turns out. The history, that's what people are going to talk about. It's very sad and very disappointing."
Still, as more high-level college programs are shuttered, largely to help schools comply with Title IX sex discrimination legislation, wrestling is often called a "dying sport." The IOC announcement won't help that reputation and takes away the sport's biggest showcase.
As news spread across the country, USA Wrestling sent out talking points to coaches, trying to spread the message that the sport would remain strong in the country despite the IOC's message.
Martin pointed out a number of stats, mentioning the increase in college programs at the Division II and III levels, and that the sport is one of the top five revenue-generating championships for the NCAA.
The National Federation of State High School Associations reported that the sport was sixth among high school boys with nearly 275,000 competing in 2010-11 and that participation has grown by more than 40,000 in the past decade.
While Martin said that losing wrestling in the Olympics was a blow to the sport, he said he did not think the decision would impact it significantly in the United States at the youth, high school or college level. He said the Olympics aren't a motivating factor for most U.S. wrestlers.
"Ninety percent of the kids I recruit, their goal is to become a national champion," Martin said. "My 9-year-old son is wrestling and he doesn't know who any of the guys in the Olympics are."
The Olympics use different scoring and rules (freestyle and Greco-Roman) than the United States (folkstyle). If international success was the main priority in this country, Martin believes the United States would have switched over long ago.
He said most wrestlers view mixed martial arts, not the Olympics, as the best, related professional opportunity after they finish college, and that nearly all wrestlers graduate and pursue a career rather than the Olympics.
"I think it will have a profound effect on the sport," Small said. "Now is it going to affect what I do at Great Bridge? I don't know about that."
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