Wrestling’s Olympic legacy is unmatched. It is one of the oldest contact sports and was an important part of the first Olympic Games, which historians date to 776 BC. The first modern Olympics, in 1896, included wrestling as a marquee event. The sport has missed only one Olympics since then, in 1900. For those counting, that is 26 straight Games over a span of 112 years.
Wrestling is a universal sport. To compete, all that is needed is an opponent and a flat surface. Anyone can participate, regardless of geography, weather, race, gender, culture or economic background. It doesn’t require a golf course, a swimming pool or a horse. More than 170 nations from all over the globe have competed. In the 1996 Olympics alone, 75 countries were represented on the mat. Athletes from a great number of nations have won medals — countries as diverse as Iran, South Korea, Sweden, Cuba and Hungary. Indeed, more countries have been represented on the winners’ podium for wrestling than for nearly any other sport.
Wrestling uniquely encapsulates the Olympic spirit, even though it harkens back to older and more martial virtues, rather than the arts festival and Kumbaya session that some may prefer the modern Games to be. Few other sports are so directly aggressive: It is you vs. one other person. There is nothing to hide behind; there are no time-outs. It is all up to you. Yet, precisely because of those conditions, few other sports create such remarkable camaraderie among their participants.
In response to the Olympic committee’s decision, members of the international wrestling community have been reaching out to one another. They are finding common purpose to create a compelling argument for readmission.
While I have tremendous respect for athletes of every Olympic sport, it is difficult to understand why wrestling was singled out for exclusion. I would imagine that it has at least as many fans across the globe as ribbon twirling, trampoline and speed-walking. No wonder the decision has been met with bafflement in many quarters. U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun was among those who were surprised, “given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality.”