In wrestling, an escape is worth only one point.
To escape elimination from the 2020 Olympics, and perhaps beyond, would be worth much more to this historic sport that was a part of the first Olympic Games in 1896.
The decision handed down Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee to dump wrestling from the Olympic program caught everyone by surprise, especially in Colorado Springs, home of USA Wrestling, the national governing body that has more than 160,000 members.
Days later, they’re still surprised. And angry. And in utter disbelief that one of the oldest Olympic sports could be dropped after a final vote in September.
“I cannot see them taking one of oldest sports away,” said Keith Sieracki, the wrestling coach at Woodland Park High School and a two-time U.S. Olympic trials champion. “The Olympics is always out there as a dream. No matter what happens, whether you get there or not, it’s a dream you can chase. They want to take that away.”
Wrestlers and fans are fighting back in advance of a pair of key dates when decisions will be made on its Olympics future. 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 session in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We’re fighting to save our sport,” said Craig Sesker, USA Wrestling manager of communications.
Wrestling, along with a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu will be vying for a single opening in 2020.
USA Wrestling recently launched a website, www.KeepWrestlingInTheOlympics.com, to assist supporters in their efforts for the cause. On Saturday, FILA, the international wrestling federation, added former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Jim Scherr, a former Olympic freestyle wrestler, to the FILA bureau in effort to retain wrestling in the Olympics.
With that recent appointment, which also includes Russian legend Alexander Karelin and Pedro Gama Filho of Brazil, perhaps today’s top wrestlers, such as high school champions Geordan Martinez of Pine Creek and AJ Rees of Discovery Canyon, can keep the Olympics in their dreams.
“If this happens, I’ll be devastated,” said Rees, a two-time Class 4A state champion who will compete for a third at the state meet, which begins Thursday in Denver. “Ever since I started wrestling, my dream was to be an Olympic gold medalist. If I don’t end up doing something (in Rio de Janeiro) in 2016, knowing that I’ll never get that chance again, it’s going to be awful. The Olympics are it. It's the pinnacle of our sport.”
Without precedent, business leaders found it difficult to project how much the Colorado Springs area might suffer without Olympic wrestling. But it would be a major loss.
“It would definitely hurt since USA Wrestling has certainly been the center for Olympic wrestling in the country,” said Tom Binnings, a senior partner at Summit Economics in Colorado Springs. “I know how big wrestling is around here, and it was real shock to hear about this. I doubt anyone has an answer yet as we’re all still absorbing this.”
While hundreds of high school wrestlers competed at regional tournaments this weekend, with dreams of state glory, another coach reflected on what wrestling really means.
“We call it the Olympic Games, but wrestling is a competition,” longtime Coronado wrestling coach Matt Brickell said. “It's man against man. It’s never been a glamour sport, but it’s just a great sport for kids, to learn what life is all about. You can be a poor kid, big, little or rich. It doesn’t matter. If you have the drive and desire to be an Olympian, wrestling should have a place to do that.”