MIKE NIETO: Grappling with the '2020' wrestling vision

2013-09-12T19:00:00Z 2013-09-13T01:00:05Z MIKE NIETO: Grappling with the '2020' wrestling visionMike Nieto Prep Beat nwitimes.com
September 12, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

Maybe the International Olympic Committee's decision in February to eliminate wrestling from their event was just what the sport needed to get its act together.

The IOC voted Sunday to bring back wrestling, starting with the 2020 Summer Olympics. The February decision did not affect the 2016 Games, which would have been the last for wrestling had not the IOC reversed its vote this week.

Wrestling historian Mike Chapman, who founded Wrestling International Magazine, the Dan Hodge Trophy (which is the Heisman Trophy of college wrestling) and the International Wrestling Institute in Newton, Iowa, maybe put it best.

"I think wrestling can come out of this even better than before," he said. "It is a great opportunity to take all of the positive publicity and move forward. Ever since the February decision to drop wrestling, there has been an avalanche of support for wrestling, coming from all around the world. That has been a big boost for the sport."

Chapman and others felt the February decision to drop wrestling wasn't so much the IOC's fault but the arrogance of FILA, the international governing body for the sport. In May, FILA got rid of its president Raphael Martinetti and brought in Nenad Lalovic.

"(FILA) was told to make changes by the IOC and they didn't listen," Chapman said. "They needed to change the rules to make the sport easier to follow. They needed to work on presentation, so it was more friendly to TV viewers. They needed to market more effectively and to pay attention to IOC protocol. They ignored that advice."

University of Chicago wrestling coach and Crown Point resident Leo Kocher said politics was involved, but he is just glad to see the sport back in the Olympics.

"The one thing we will not lose is the grass roots level," he said. "The kids and their parents, who are enthusiastic about the sport. For them, they need the Olympics because they need someone to look up to (in the sport)."

There are changes that also includes greater involvement for women and in the administration. Wrestling is the world's oldest sport, dating back to not only the first modern Olympics in 1896, but to 708 B.C. It has to do things like get into the 21st century with more social media to promote the sport.

That means when wrestling is on, do not show it at 3 o'clock in the morning. You have to show some of the matches in prime time and build a following. That, of course, is in the hands of the television networks.

FILA and the wrestling community are lucky the IOC listened and re-considered.

Mount Carmel wrestling coach John Kading, a four-time All-American at Oklahoma and the 1996 NCAA champ at 190 pounds, said the decision to bring the sport back is vital to keep youths involved.

"Wrestling in the Olympics is vital for the success of the sport and the vote to keep wrestling in the Olympics just might make it a little harder for some college programs to ponder the thought of dropping their wrestling program," Kading said.

It is important for the kids to have a dream of one day representing our country on the mat and the world stage. The sport may have got a wake-up call while it was on its back after a near fall with the referee ready to slap his hand on the mat to signify a pin.

It got a scare, but I think if wrestling follows the changes, the best is yet to come.

This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at mike.nieto@nwi.com.

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