Commentary: The Olympic committee screwed up, but it's fixable


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Somewhere in this great nation, a middle-school boy will sit today at his computer. He will sport a hat that displays the famous mantra, “All I See Is GOLD.” Jordan Burroughs will dance across his screen, hoisting an American flag with a big, cheesy smile.

Burroughs’ gold medal match is all the boy will think about. He will watch the former Nebraska Cornhusker topple Iran’s Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi to win the London Gold. That boy, who is a wrestler himself, hopes to represent the USA one day, like Burroughs, and win Olympic Gold.

It is his dream. The thought of a gold medal dangling around his neck enthralls him to the point of absolute obsession.

I know the boy exists because I found myself in his shoes eight years ago.

That young boy, that aspiring Olympic champion, likely came to the most frightening realization Tuesday — a realization that he may not get his chance to win an Olympic gold medal.

Olympic wrestling is on the edge

The result of Tuesday’s International Olympic Committee announcement has simply cast wrestling onto a ballot with seven other Olympic hopefuls. The list includes baseball/softball, karate, wakeboarding, and other sports that probably shouldn’t be in the Olympics.
In essence, wrestling is sitting on the edge right now. It is not gone. The sport that we all know and love didn’t get the ax, but it was dang near close to it.

“This was obviously a wake-up call,” wrestling icon Dan Gable said Tuesday. “And obviously we needed to be woken up.”

The initial outburst was phenomenal. Within hours, Twitter inflated with tweets from all over the globe, and new Facebook pages garnered more than 80,000 subscribers. But that’s just one small part of the battle.

There needs to be action here, but intelligent, educated action. There needs to be proficiency. There needs to be a plan. And as Iowa’s head wrestling coach Tom Brands said Tuesday during his press conference, “You have to do it with some muscle, as well.”

If anybody can take charge and show wrestling belongs in the Olympics — and that it’s an everlasting staple in the Summer Games — it’s the United States. We have the personnel, the strength, and the drive to get it done.

Wrestlers know how that goes. They understand the struggle for power because they live through it every day in the practice rooms. They know the rich history of American wrestling — the third most successful sport, in terms of medalists (124), in U.S. Olympic history.

But we can’t do it alone. This isn’t just affecting the United States, but also the 70 other nations who competed in this past summer’s Olympiad — including Russia, Iran, and Japan.

“It’s not just a USA wrestling problem,” Iowa City West head wrestling coach Mark Reiland said. “It’s a worldwide wrestling problem.”

We can do this

I once wrestled alongside an Olympic hopeful.

Alan Waters, who wrestles at Mizzou, was my occasional practice partner back at Park Hill High in Kansas City. He’d beat me into the mat like I was a rag doll, then stand me up and do it again. I would groan for hours after practice some nights because of the beating I took.

But I respected what he was chasing — an Olympic gold medal. He wanted it — and still wants it — badly. He was probably like the boy at his computer (except he would have watched Cael Sanderson win his 2004 gold medal).

That’s the beauty of the Olympic Games. For about a month, every four years, it exposes the sports many people don’t get to see, and they capture America’s heart and soul. Wrestling is the best at this.

Without wrestling in the Olympics, we’d never see the feel-good stories of Henry Cejudo or Rulon Gardner. We wouldn’t become enamored with a man such as Burroughs or be surprised by the emergence of Jake Varner. Wrestling, despite its manly appearance and sweaty veneer, allows us to believe anything is possible.

Wrestling gives us that hope. Wrestling gives hope to the 125-pounder from a small town near Kansas City just like it gives hope to the young middle-school boy who watches Burroughs snatch up doubles.

The IOC has given us a scare, and if we act right, it will remain just a scare, nothing more.

This problem is fixable, but we must do it together — before it scares off the little boy who sees nothing but gold.

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