The International Olympic Committee’s decision to drop wrestling beginning with the 2020 Summer Games hit area coaches like a double-leg takedown Tuesday.
“I was driving to school when I heard about it on ESPN,” Central Valley and former North Idaho College coach John Owen said. “My phone started blowing up with calls. It’s been blowing up all morning.”
Former Mead standout Jordan Rogers, who is redshirting in his first year at Oklahoma State, has long had a dream of competing in the Olympics.
“Talk about a gut shot,” Mead coach Phil McLean said. “The Olympics were all part of Jordan’s vision and dream. He put himself in the best spot at Oklahoma State to be coached by guys who have been there and are currently there.”
Both Owen and McLean hope the announcement isn’t the final word.
“I don’t think it’s the final blow, but it’s really a sad day for wrestling,” Owen said.
Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world. It was featured in the inaugural modern Olympic program in Athens in 1896.
The IOC executive board decided to retain modern pentathlon and remove wrestling from its list of 25 “core sports.” The final group of sports under consideration for elimination also included field hockey and taekwondo.
The executive board will meet in May to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion, according to an Associated Press story.
“I don’t think it’s over yet,” McLean said. “There’s still a process.”
The decision hit close to home for Owen, who coached 20 years at NIC where his teams captured eight national championships. His oldest son, Tommy, is an assistant coach at George Mason University near Washington, D.C., and his youngest son, Brian, is competing at Boise State.
“I’ve had a lump in my stomach all morning,” Owen said. “Having wrestling in the Olympics over the years has saved the sport at a number of colleges.”
If the sport is eliminated, Owen expects a trickle-down effect that ultimately reaches the youth freestyle programs.
“If you don’t have it in the Olympics, there’s no need to have it in freestyle,” Owen said. “Eliminating it will have a profound effect.”
McLean expects a big push to salvage what is considered by many to be the oldest and grandest sport.
“Some guys go water skiing and we go wrestling,” Owen said.
Wrestling supporters in the area recall the major upset Rulon Gardner pulled in 2000 against Russian wrestling giant Alexander Karelin.
Gardner wrestled in Coeur d’Alene as a heavyweight for Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. He was among a number of Olympians who expressed their frustration on Twitter.
“It just seems like wrestling, if we don’t fight we’re going to die,” Gardner said. “At this point, it’s time for everybody to man up and support the program.”