Johnson: Local Olympians stunned by IOC’s wrestling decision (with video)
Ari Taub, who represented Canada in 2008, says the sport just wasn’t sexy enough
Pictured before competing in the 2008 Olympics, Calgarian Ari Taub cuts an imposing figure. The local businessman has a realistic view of why the International Olympic Committee eliminated wrestling from the Olympics — money — but he is still stunned and upset by Tuesday’s decision.
Photograph by: Calgary Herald/Files
As an Olympian himself, Ari Taub understands the crushing heartbreak. As a businessman, from a purely pragmatic point of view, he can at least get his head around the reasoning why the International Olympic Committee decided to pull wrestling from the lineup starting with the 2020 Games.
“I think anyone that’s actively competing in the sport right now has just had the rug pulled out from under them,” said the Calgary lawyer who became a feel-good-story Olympian in 2008 in Beijing, competing in the Greco-Roman 120-kg weight class.
“I think it’s disastrous for them. Shattering. Absolutely shattering.
“I can’t imagine this happening to me in 2005. I’d worked so many years. This was my last kick at the can. I’d put my business on hold. And then one morning the IOC suddenly wakes up and says ‘Yeaaaah, you’re not an Olympic sport anymore ...’
“But the Olympics is big business. Wrestling doesn’t drive sponsor revenue or ticket revenue. Simple as that.
“I don’t know that anyone’s at fault.
“If wrestling was all about suplexes, there was a ton of scoring and there were some hot-looking chicks, then the average fan could relate to it. You watch wrestling at the Olympics, it’s very tactical, very low scoring. It’s mostly Eastern European ugly men. And you have to ask yourself: ‘How much does Coke care about that?’”
“That’s what it is. The Olympics is no longer about tradition and the Olympic ideals as much as it is about business. And if you put a business lens on the Olympics, it’s easy to see why this has happened.
“Why are people talking about putting golf in the Olympics?”
Wrestling has been a part of the Summer Olympics since the Greeks invented the Games concept in 1896. And given the increasing number of fringe/extreme sports added to the Olympic program to pad out TV time, it seems unthinkable that it would be dropped.
Yet on Tuesday, International Olympic Committee leaders, in a tradition-be-damned ruling, axed wrestling, a surprise decision that removes one of the oldest sports from the 2020 Games. Instead, the event most considered at risk in the drop one/add one procedure, modern pentathlon remained a part of the IOC’s 25 “core sports.”
Justine Bouchard was the alternate for the Canadian women’s wrestling team in London and her reaction mirrored that of those inside her sporting community.
“I was absolutely shocked,” she said. “I didn’t know what to believe, then I opened up my Facebook page and I was like ‘OK, yeah. That’s real.’
“I can’t understand this at all. All day I’ve been trying to contemplate why; what their motive might be. If anything, it’s opening people eyes and bringing the wrestling community closer together. On the women’s side of things, we just got into the Olympics eight years ago and it was such a big deal.
“I’m proud that I still get to represent Canada at a World Championship level, but I can see it being a big-deal on how they’re going to fund it. For me, I poured my heart into wrestling, and believe me I wanted to compete at the Olympics, but it’s never been solely about that. I got into the sport because I loved it, because of every value it taught me.
“I hope this doesn’t stop anyone who now thinks ‘Yeah, but there’s no grand finale’, but yes, I can see it being the ender for some people.
“I think what blows people’s minds is that wrestling has been there since the very first Olympics. So many other sports, golf, hockey, baseball, basketball, have their own attention. For us, we’re not like them; we don’t make millions of dollars. The Olympics is the biggest event of our lives.”
On her Twitter account, two-time medallist Carol Hyunh of Calgary wrote: “Totally shocked. Hope that CAWA & FILA will lobby for reversal or we fight with other sports to get back in.”
In a statement, Don Ryan, president of Wrestling Canada, said he was “deeply surprised.
“Canada’s wrestling programs have been strong and successful at the international level, and posted strong results in the recent Games. We have a strong international federation (FILA) and we will work closely with them as called upon to lobby and appeal to the IOC members to reverse this decision that has yet to be ratified by the IOC.”
So now wrestling will vie with baseball, softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sports climbing, wakeboarding (!!!) and wushu (!!!!!) for inclusion as an “additional” sport in 2020.
Yes, wushu (Chinese martial arts).
So much for reverence for the past.
“My prediction,” said Ari Taub, “is that grappling, not wrestling, will come back to the Olympics. There’s more action, people understand it more, there’s more submissions and it’s attached to mixed martial arts which is the fastest-growing sport in the world and has some cache.
“But right now, you’ve got to feel for those people who’ve put so much into training; who’ve sacrificed, who’ve put their lives on hold, for this.
“There’s a whole generation of athletes who’ve trained for years and years and years to get to the Stanley Cup and now someone is telling them the Stanley Cup doesn’t exist anymore.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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