Coaches, athletes weigh in on Olympic decision

Liberty High School wrestler Tyrell Jethrow may find himself being pretty bored when the 2020 Summer Olympics come on TV.

The International Olympic Committee eliminated wrestling from the 2020 Olympics last week, sending a shockwave through wrestling organizations from around the world – Trumbull and Mahoning counties included.

“As soon as I heard about it, I was like, ‘Wow, they got rid of wrestling?,’ ” said Jethrow, a senior for the Leopards who’s wrestled since he was in grade school. “Those are people I look up to. They’re like the Superman of the sport. I usually don’t watch any other sports (in the Olympics). But when wrestling comes on, I gotta watch it. It’s amazing. It’s the best sport out there.”

The IOC’s executive board thought differently when it chose to drop wrestling from the 2020 games (it remains in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro) and keep modern pentathlon – a sport that combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting. Wrestling could still be included in the 2020 games, but it joins seven other sports vying for one opening: a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and the martial art of wushu.

The news was stunning to area coaches and invoked harsh criticism. Several coaches talked about how wrestling was part of the Ancient Olympics, dating as far back as 708 BC, and one of the oldest sports known to man. That tradition alone made it an odd choice to be removed, Liberty coach Hadi A. Hadi said.

“When I think of the Olympics, I think about wrestling, basketball, triatholons, track and field events,” he said. “It’s not ping pong and curling. I think they’ve gone awry to what the Olympics should be.”

Howland coach Bill Beasom said he was surprised by the move because of the worldwide interest of wrestling. There were 71 nations that competed in wrestling during the 2012 Olympics in London, with 29 of them earning medals. In comparison, 22 nations and 36 total athletes competed in the modern pentathlon.

Beasom said interest in the sport could be sparked even more if wrestling was promoted properly on TV.

“If they show the earlier rounds, there’s a lot of scoring going on and it would make it more interesting for people to watch,” he said. “I enjoy watching the finals, but it’s going to be a very close match. It’s between two of the best wrestlers in the world. It’s like baseball, when you have two of the best pitchers in major leagues, there’s not going to be a lot of offense. When you have the two best people, it’s a close match, and unless you really understand the sport, you don’t appreciate it as much.”

Jackson-Milton coach Dave Tomaino, in his 27th year coaching, is holding out hope the vote doesn’t hold up. He was especially disappointed in the decision, calling it “a slap in the face to wrestling.” He said the sport endures enough hardships – with low publicity and schools cutting it from its overall athletic program because of Title IX and participation.

“I don’t think that will go through,” he said. “There will be enough petitions and they’ll see the reaction. There are reactions not just from the U.S., but all the other countries.”

The biggest effect from the potential exclusion of wrestling could fall on the kids currently taking part in the sport, Hadi said. There aren’t any options for college wrestlers who would like to continue to compete. Those who dreamt of one day having a chance to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport they love can only keep dreaming if the decision remains.

“It’s like stealing a kid’s dream,” Hadi said. “Really, there’s nothing after high school or college. Maybe MMA, but that’s not wrestling to me.”

Fitch coach Brett Powell, the longest-tenured coach in Mahoning and Trumbull counties at 28 years, worries that the sport is on a downward spiral in the eyes of the public.

“They’re going to kill the sport eventually,” he said. “The one place you always thought there’d be a safe haven is at the Olympic level, and nothing can be further from the truth.”