Wrestling decision didn't come without nerves


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Terry Brands was picking fruit out of a complimentary bowl on Sunday morning. Perhaps it was for breakfast. That point isn’t terribly important. But he caught himself, nonetheless.

“I shouldn’t be doing that,” he said. “I’m not at home.” So he went and got a plate.

His plate was a little shaky, though. Actually, it was his hand. Someone nearby chuckled.

“I’m just nervous,” he said. “I’m shaking like leaves.”

That was the feeling inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena Sunday morning. It was a nice reunion of the Iowa wrestling community. But nobody knew for certain if wrestling was going to join the Olympics — at least not until it was announced.

It’s kind of funny when you think about it. Wrestlers are a confident bunch. I used to be one. I know how their minds are wired. It’s always one match at a time. They’re out there to win. They don’t like talking about losses, which is why most run off after they do.

Dan Gable said he was never nervous before a wrestling match because “most of [his] matches were in [his] hands.” Makes sense, but he went on to say that this match, this fight, wasn’t in his hands. Nerves? I’d venture to say yes.

There was every reason to be nervous on Sunday morning. My stomach dropped a few times as my mind raced over the possibilities. What if? Nobody thought the decision in February would happen. That’s all the reason we needed to be extra cautious and not jump the gun.

A lot was riding on Sunday’s decision, especially the sport’s history and future. Wrestling is a storied sport, the original form of competition. Once upon a time, two Greeks wanted to judge who was more of a man, so they decided to wrestle. It’s been there since the Olympics first started.

On top of that, the future is important, too. Youth wrestlers all around the world aspire to be Olympic champions. Without wrestling in the Olympics, those dreams are shot. World Championships are cool, sure, but Jordan Burroughs didn’t become famous until after he won the Olympics.

Wrestling finds the spotlight every four years. That’s what makes it famous. People know John Smith for his two Olympic golds rather than his other four World titles. People know Rulon Gardner because he beat the odds and won an Olympic gold. Gable could’ve run through the World Championships without allowing a point, but because he did it in the Olympics, it became historic.

Gable knew of the pressures. He was alongside both on Sunday morning. His grandkids, the future, stood next to him. They wore “Save Olympic Wrestling” T-shirts. They spent the better part of the voting process practicing their celebration screams for when wrestling would be declared the winner. Confidence was apparent.

But the past also made an appearance. To unlock Gable’s iPhone, he said you’d have to know his 1972 Olympic wrestling weight — no other hints provided. That’s how much he’s committed. He takes pride in that gold medal.

After Gable unlocked his phone, he showed a few members of the media how people were congratulating him on the biggest victory of his wrestling career. One text was from a good friend.

“You can sleep a little easier tonight,” Gable read aloud. “Thanks for all you do.”

Perhaps we can all sleep a little easier tonight. The nerves are gone. Wrestling has officially been saved.

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