Sunday, September 8, 2013

What You Need To Know About Wrestling Being Back In The Olympics

This photo is what the Olympics is all about.

I'm going to focus on the amateur side of wrestling, because it's one of the few things I love more than professional wrestling. The biggest news this week is that wrestling will remain in the Olympics through 2024, and it probably means that it is going to be safe for the foreseeable future. This is excellent news, as wrestling belongs in the Olympics. For sports that truly define the Olympics, it has to be right up there with track & field, swimming, and gymnastics. Personally, I think it is more "olympic" than those other sports, but I recognize that it may just be my bias for wrestling and my indifference towards those other sports.

Wrestling being in the Olympics is great, and it has already led to some very good rule changes that will help the sport, because freestyle wrestling got stupid over these last few years with the scoring changes and the overtime rules. The United States is still trying to push for an unlimited (10 minutes, which is basically unlimited considering that is an eternity to try and wrestle) sudden death, which I absolutely love, but FILA seems to be fighting against since it can lead to "boring" moments where people are waiting for action. There is nothing more exciting than a sudden death period, especially when it is a one-on-one battle of wills. I'm really hoping for that, but as long as I never have to see a wrestler pick a colored ball out of a hat again, I can at least sleep a little easier. 

On the bad side of things, wrestling is again cutting down the weight classes. There will now only be six freestyle weights for freestyle, Greco, and women's freestyle. For women's, this number makes sense, as there is only about 10 pounds of weight difference between each class. You won't get much of a tweener with that limited range of weights. The difference in men's weight is 22 pounds. Twenty-two pounds. These are the proposed weights for freestyle (Greco is fairly similar in their weights):

55kg - 121lbs
65kg - 143lbs
75kg - 165lbs
85kg - 187lbs
95kg - 209lbs
125kg - 275lbs

And yes, that does not even count the 66 pound weight difference between the two heaviest weights. There used to be 10 freestyle weight classes, which seems about right. You could easily convince me of going up to 11 or 12, but 10 is a fine number. Wrestling has continued to lose weight classes and was down at 7 for this last Olympics. They are giving up yet another class in order to make them a more viable sport, but it's getting a little ridiculous. There are six freestyle wrestling events. Michael Phelps was able to win 8 gold medals in a single Olympics. It would take a wrestler 28 years to win that many medals. So if a prodigy won a gold medal at 18, he'd just have to keep doing that every four years until he was 46. And for anybody stating that they could also compete in Greco, yes, they could, but that would be like asking Phelps to compete in long distance swimming; it's a completely different set of skills. 

No, the change in weight classes wouldn't change any of that, but it would give more people who train incredibly hard with no real monetary incentive. United States Wrestling offers $250,000 for winning a gold medal and nothing for anything else. The payouts from the Olympics aren't that impressive either. Jordan Burroughs is by far the most famous current wrestler, and I would guess that 80% of sports fans have never heard of him. 

Wrestling being back is great, but it would be a whole lot better if wrestling could get some more respect and get back to 10 weight classes. Wrestling only takes up a few days. It could still take up the same amount of time and add those weight classes in. For wrestlers, the Olympics is all there is, and increasing that number so a few more wrestlers can achieve their dream seems like a worthwhile investment to me.

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Since I don't want to end this on a bad note, the greatest social media sports story of the year happened this week. Iowa and Penn State, despite being the two biggest powerhouses in the conference, are not on each other's schedule this year, because the B1G loves logical decisions. Penn State coach, Cael Sanderson, sent a message to Iowa's head coach, Tom Brands, on Twitter asking about something big missing on their meet. After a back-and-forth exchange, which I recommend checking out here, they came to an agreement to meet at Carver Hawkeye Arena on December 21. 

This is not just awesome news for wrestling, it is awesome news for sports in general. And yes, it had to have been completely staged, considering Tom Brands didn't have a Twitter account until last week, and it seemed as though he was still figuring it out during their exchange since he had never tweeted before Sanderson tweeted at him today, but who cares? This was an awesome way to deliver the news, and it would be one of the biggest stories of the year if it happened in another sport. Imagine if LSU and Alabama were not on each other's schedule, and Les Miles tweeted at Nick Saban about how they should try to get something done, and they came to an agreement to have one of their non-conference games be a game between the two teams. With great stuff like this happening, Cael Sanderson is making it really hard for me to dislike him. As long as Penn State doesn't start wrestling like Oklahoma State (where their motto is, "It's not wrestling unless you're stalling"), I think I may have to root for them to prosper their way to a second place finish this year.

So, yes, this was a great week for wrestling, but there is still room for improvement down the road, both in rule changes, and in increased weight classes down the road. But wrestling remains in the Olympics, and Iowa and Penn State are wrestling this year. Life is good for this wrestling fan.

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