Citadel wrestler Turtogtokh Luvsandorj won the national championship of Mongolia two years ago and dreams of representing his country in the Olympic Games.
Why Wrestling?While the Olympics have decided to drop wrestling, these sports remain in the Summer Games:
Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee dealt a blow to that dream, announcing that it would cut wrestling from the Summer Games starting in 2020.
“I’m pretty mad about it,” said Luvsandorj, a redshirt junior for the Bulldogs who qualified for the NCAA championships last season.
Luvsandorj is not the only one.
The announcement by the IOC sparked outrage in the international wrestling community and among the sport’s followers in the Lowcountry.
Even Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White, a state champion wrestler during his days at James Island High School, took notice.
“Wrestling is a sport that almost every country does and you drop it,” White wrote on his Twitter account. “I’m (ticked). #saveolympicwrestling.”
Wrestling is among the world’s oldest competitive sports and was part of the ancient Olympics in 708 B.C. It also was one of the nine original sports when the modern Games began in 1896.
“To me, it’s the equivalent of dropping track and field from the Olympics,” said Citadel wrestling coach Rob Hjerling. “Wrestling is one of the defining sports of the Olympics. You see the direction that the Olympics are going in the last 12 or 16 years, you kind of feel like the Olympics are losing their significance.
“For a sport like wrestling, the Olympics are the pinnacle. Or at least, it was.”
Wrestling still has a chance to be included in the 2020 Games, but must now compete with seven other sports for inclusion. Those sports are baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu, a full contact form of martial arts. Appeals will be made in May with a final decision in September.
In the meantime, U.S. Olympic wrestling icons such as Dan Gable and Cael Sanderson have vowed to fight for the sport’s Olympic future. There is a petition at Change.org asking the IOC to restore wrestling to the Games. The movement has the support of local coaches and wrestlers.
“I think it is ridiculous,” said Hanahan High School coach Ray Adkins. “That’s a wrestler’s dream, to wrestle in the Olympics. Their ultimate goal is to wrestle for their country. I just hope this wouldn’t be the end of wrestling in our country.”
Summerville coach Darryl Tucker thought the decision was a joke when he first heard it.
“It’s probably the worst decision they could make,” he said. “I’m hearing a lot of feedback from other coaches who want to fight this outrageous decision.”
Hanahan wrestler J.J. Johnson, a state champion who will wrestle in college at Missouri, said the decision will “hurt wrestling a little bit.”
“Why did they have to pick one of the oldest (Olympic) sports?” he said. “We just have to have that mentality to push ahead.”
While disappointed by the IOC’s stance, The Citadel’s Hjerling was heartened by the response to the decision. He points out that wrestling has been on the uptick in the U.S., with high school participation up by 40,000 over the last 10 years.
Though wrestling has contracted at the NCAA Division I level, there have been 95 new programs established at all levels since 1995. There are even 21 intercollegiate women’s wrestling teams.
“I think this is a time, whether you are a fan of wrestling or not, where everyone equates wrestling with the Olympics,” he said.
“Even if you are not a fan, during the Olympics you will put wrestling on and see one of the original Olympic sports. It’s mind-boggling to me to think about the Olympics without wrestling.”
Meanwhile, Olympic hopefuls like The Citadel’s Luvsandorj and Ugi Khishignyam, another Mongolian who is ranked No. 8 in Division I in his weight class, face a diminished chance to realize their dreams.
“Well, at least I still have 2016,” said Lusvandorj, referring to the Rio De Janeiro Games and, perhaps, wrestling’s last moment in the Olympic ring.