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Local coaches relieved after wrestling's re-addition to Olympics

Sycamore's Ren Swick (left) competes against Burlington Central's Craig Kein during their 170-pound finals match at the Class 2A Sycamore Regional on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. Swick won with a pin.
Sycamore's Ren Swick (left) competes against Burlington Central's Craig Kein during their 170-pound finals match at the Class 2A Sycamore Regional on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013. Swick won with a pin.

Wrestling was featured in the first Olympic Games. 

After a Sunday vote by the International Olympic Committee, it is guaranteed to be included in the 2020 and 2024 games. In February, the IOC voted to eliminate wrestling after the 2016 Rio Games. 

But, FILA, the international wrestling governing body, built a case that ensured Greco-Roman and Freestyle will be part of the next two Olympics, starting in 2020 with the Tokyo Games.

As a wrestling lifer, Sycamore wresting coach Alex Nelson was relieved when the news hit of the overwhelming vote to reinstate wrestling, which was chosen over squash and softball/baseball by the IOC.

“I was a little heart-broken that a sport I have been so familiar with, that has been a part of my whole life, was suddenly tossed out of the Olympics,” Nelson said. “I was a wrestler and now I’m a teacher and a wrestling coach. I didn’t understand how a sport that was part of the first Olympics could just be tossed aside. When the vote came through though it was a good day. I was excited.”

With changes to the scoring system and weight classes, wrestling was able to fend off the criticism that it had become an antiquated sport in international competition where the action is vastly different than the folkstyle used by the U.S. National Federation of High Schools and the NCAA. 

Olympic matches now will feature a running score, just like the IHSA and NCAA. The rule change is intended to create more action and scoring opportunities.

Previous Olympic wrestling rules rewarded the winner of a period one point. Thus, there was no reward for a wrestler to press forward with action after a takedown. They could simply play defense, circle, stall or ride out an opponent rather than take a risk to score again.     

“The rule changes should create more action,” Nelson said. “The scores should be higher, there should be more action and wrestlers shouldn’t just be worried about winning a period.”

While the rules changes were a driving force behind wrestling’s reinstatement, DeKalb wrestling coach Mike Pater wants FILA to commit to a set of rules so wrestlers and coaches can adapt and the game can continue to grow.

“We’ve got to find a way to streamline the rules,” Pater said. “It seems like there’s always a change in weight classes, rules or scoring. Every few months it seems like there’s a change again. We need clear-cut rules that everyone can agree on.”

Because wrestling doesn’t have the television exposure of baseball, basketball or football, or even other niche sports such as hockey, golf or tennis, a concerted effort to maximize it to the public is necessary.

ESPN added live coverage of the NCAA Wrestling Tournament to its family of networks, which is a much-needed lift. 

“Wrestling needs to be highlighted more,” Pater said. “It needs to be more visible. We need to self-promote more. The internet helps with that because websites carry live, streaming matches, but after the Olympics it seems like wrestling goes away for four years. There are national and international competitions taking place.

“Some colleges do a good job of promoting the sport. But it’s up to everyone to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to keep wrestling a prominent sport.”

Exposure and promotion are the start of a battle Nelson wants to see continue.

“The next fight is to secure wrestling as a core sport,” Nelson said. “There’s no doubt it is and there’s no doubt it should be. It’s been around since the beginning and should always be an Olympic sport.”

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