April 16, 2013
Margaux Isaksen is the future face of the modern pentathlon. She finished fourth this past summer at the London Olympics, and she was disappointed.
Make that tremendously disappointed. She traveled to England with the expectation of coming home with a medal.
She’s only 21, and has a strong chance to walk around with three, maybe even four, Olympic medals around her neck. Don’t doubt her. She has a raging fire in her gut to succeed.
For months, the modern pentathlon seemed doomed as an Olympic sport. If you read American newspapers, and I do, the sport appeared in severe danger.
You can imagine Isaksen’s joy when she discovered in February the pentathlon had been spared.
But her joy was not pure. She was stunned, along with a multitude of others, to discover wrestling had been recommended for removal from the 2020 Games.
Isaksen talked Tuesday afternoon between bites of Pad Thai at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center cafeteria. She was wearing gray warm-ups with “The United States of America” in big letters on her back. She only had a few minutes to talk. Her weightlifting coach was waiting.
“I was absolutely happy for myself,” Isaksen said, “but my other reaction was, ‘Wow, I can’t believe they’re taking wrestling out of the Olympics.’ It’s incredibly unfortunate.”
Isaksen never believed the pentathlon would be removed. The sport enjoys strong support in several corners of the globe, including Poland, Russia, Hungary, Italy, South Korea and China. The sport struggles for attention in the United States.
Isaksen ignored stories that stated the pentathlon had little chance to survive. She knew better.
“It was the American view of who was on the chopping block,” she said. “We don’t get the respect we deserve in this country.”
Her distress over the removal of wrestling is genuine. Wrestling boasts, like the pentathlon, a long, distinguished Olympic history.
But wrestling fails to grab big TV ratings. The leaders of the Olympic movement are searching for flashy sports to entice TV viewers. This search explains the presence of beach volleyball.
Isaksen’s coach, Janusz Peciak, sat beside her while she talked. Peciak competed in the Olympic pentathlon three times, winning gold at the 1976 Montreal Games.
He is angered, but not surprised, by the International Olympic Committee’s plans to discard wrestling.
“It’s all about the show,” Peciak said. “It’s all about money. If they had people compete in fencing naked, people would love it. That’s what they are doing now. It’s all about the sex, or whatever.”
Isaksen and Peciak decline to just complain. Both offer concrete plans to construct a better Olympics.
Peciak believes several sports should streamline events at the Olympics. Instead of spending several days on elimination rounds, he said, these sports should rapidly move to medal competition. This would allow additional sports, like wrestling, to remain in the Olympics.
Isaksen has her eyes on swimming. Michael Phelps was given the opportunity to win 22 medals during his illustrious pool career.
That’s too many, Isaksen said.
“I’m all for reducing the events,” she said. “I’m absolutely for it. I don’t even know how many events there are in swimming.”
She does know this truth, which should be self-evident:
Wrestling belongs in the Olympics.