Wrestling fans througout America and across the globe scored a victory last week when the International Olympic Committee reinstated the sport for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. The IOC had previously eliminated wrestling from the schedule six months ago in a surpising decision that riled more than a few feathers throughout the wrestling community.
The IOC’s recent decision was a welcomed one, and especially here in Iowa. The sport’s popularity throughout the state is nothing new – we have a rich tradition that has dominated wrestling lore for decades. Be it Cael Sanderson, the Brands brothers or the venerable Dan Gable, the Hawkeye State has undoubtedly pumped out its fair shair of icons.
It was an understandable low-blow to many here in Iowa when they voted to cancel Olympic wrestling in February. Iowans take pride in our history of excellence, and the sport has grown to extreme popularity in just the past 50 years alone. Both the Hawkeye and Cyclone wrestling programs pumped it up into the statewide spectacle it has become today. Each school has produced numerous champions and All-Americans over the years, and it’s certainly something to be proud of.
Wrestling’s influence trickles down to nearly everyone here in Iowa. Our state is notorious for “starting ‘em young,” and numerous pee-wee clubs and elementary programs have an ingrained tradition in every one of our 99 counties. It seems like we breed wrestlers. Our high school championship meet is one of the most exciting amateur events I’ve ever witnessed, and anyone who’s attended will tell you there’s no shortage of passion.
Sometimes you have to try something to gain full appreciation for it. I suppose I can say that about wrestling because I participated in it for two years in junior high. As you can tell by my short tenure, I wasn’t very good. My grade was particularly talented at the sport and I knew I was only wasting a space on the mat during practice.
However, I grew to appreciate the sport and those who dedicate their time to it. I think it takes a certain degree of insanity to practice day in and day out under heat lamps while you’re twisted like a pretzel. It’s hard work, and our state should be extremely honored to have such a long list of individuals that achieved excellence.
The IOC’s decision would have been a massive detriment to the sport on a worldwide scale. It’s reputation took a massive hit when it was cut for a six-month period, but it has the opportunity to bounce back stronger than it was before. Losing its destinction as an Olympic sport would have no doubt killed wrestling – winning Olympic gold is the sport’s pinnacle, and it’s popularity would have slid down a slippery slope without it.
Despite its ingrained statewide tradition, the programs at our two flagship universities have hiccuped in recent years. Both Iowa and ISU felt the full brunt of Sanderson’s exit as the Cyclones’ head coach in 2009 when he accepted the top job at Penn State. Iowa State’s program took a dive, and Iowa was pushed from atop the Big Ten standings and out of National Championship headlines in the years since Sanderson’s arrival in State College, Pa.
Despite these rather stagnant years, I would imagine the sport’s popularity is secure here in Iowa. Football is down the tubes at the U of I and ISU, and doesn’t appear to be getting better anytime in the near future. Basketball seems to be it’s only true competitor at the moment, which is something Hawk fans haven’t been able to say in nearly 10 years. Wrestling’s storied statewide tradition will certainly be the standard for the years to come in spite of this, however.
It’s popularity is secure here, but wrestling is a little bit more unstable at the global level. The IOC’s decision to reinstate the sport was a vote of confidence and an investiment that shouldn’t be taken for granted by those at the top level of international wrestling. As we’ve seen here in Iowa, the sport can bring huge acclaim and triumph to those who work hard at it. Without it’s Olympic designation, wrestling’s star would have no doubt dimmed into obscurity and faded away.
Nick Pedley is the regional news editor at the Hampton Chronicle, The Sheffield Press and Pioneer Enterprise.