By Wayne Bennett
For The Register-Herald
In recent weeks I have been asked by several people how I felt about the International Olympic Committee’s decision to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport in 2020. My predictable response is, “I hate it!”
First of all, it infuriates me that the great sport of wrestling would even have to argue or petition for a spot in the Olympics. Wrestling has been around so long it’s even considered spiritual. You don’t have to read too far in the book of Genesis to discover the all-night wrestling match between Jacob and God. That must have been a heckuva match.
Historically, wrestling was added to the ancient games in 708 B.C., and when the modern games were started in 1896 wrestling was one of the first sports to be included.
I have a huge amount of respect for any athlete who competes, especially on an international level, but I feel if a sport had to be eliminated it would be the modern pentathlon.
Besides being called by some an elitist sport, let’s look at the facts. The pentathlon includes fencing, swimming, horseback riding, running and shooting. If the committee eliminated the modern pentathlon, the athletes would still be able to participate in those events because individually they will remain a part of the Olympics. Not so for wrestling. If wrestling is eliminated, there are no other Olympic sports parallel or similar to this type of competition.
Secondly, let’s look at the numbers. Over 100 countries in the world participate in wrestling. In the 2012 London Olympics, 71 countries were represented by wrestlers as opposed to 26 countries being represented by the modern pentathlon.
Almost 114,000 people attended the wrestling competition in London, compared to 23,000 in attendance at the modern pentathlon.
Wrestling also beat out the pentathlon in the television audience. Wrestling had an average viewership of 23 million people, with a maximum of 58.5 million at one time. The pentathlon had a 12.5 million average and a 33.5 million maximum.
In the United States alone there are over 300,000 wrestlers. We even have had an Olympic training facility in Morgantown. Personally, I have never met or heard of a modern pentathlon athlete and I doubt if any of our readers have either, but, I bet most of you know or have heard of someone involved in wrestling.
Fortunately, over the years, I have met several Olympic wrestlers, including West Virginia University’s Nate Carr and Huntington’s Ken Chertow. None of the Olympic wrestlers I have met ever disappointed me. I found them to be humble, congenial and hard-working athletes willing to give back to a sport they love. They are the kind of people I wanted my kids and grandkids to be around.
Now is not a time to be sad. The silent cannot be silent any longer. If you feel that wrestling should remain an Olympic sport, don’t hesitate to react. Get on the Internet and go to the Amateur Wrestling News website. Click on the icon “Keep wrestling in the Olympics.” Click “Petitions” and sign the change.org category. Your help is important and appreciated. Please do it now!
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Well, it’s time to put the old water bottle back on the shelf until next season. This week a final squeeze goes to Mike Carpenter, a former Liberty High School wrestler and current West Liberty heavyweight. Mike currently has a 30-3 record in the 285-pound class and has qualified for the NCAA Division II National Tournament this weekend in Birmingham, Ala. Go Mike!