PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK: Wrestling slammed by IOC,
but alive and well in Chatfield
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 5:00 AM
Wrestling is the talk of the town in Chatfield this week. No, it isn't about, at least not all about, the announcement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to potentially drop wrestling from the Olympic program in the 2020 summer games.
For the few people that haven't heard, Chatfield's high school team is going to the state tournament for the first time since 2000.
Chatfield fans, even those who don't normally go to wrestling meets, packed Mayo Civic Center Saturday for the finals. Expectations were high as the Gophers were the top seed, a spot they earned last year before being upset in the semifinals.
The crowd support and enthusiasm in Chatfield is a stark contrast to the outlook of the IOC.
I've never been a big wrestling fan, preferring basketball as a sport to play and watch. Still, in my years of covering sports, there is little question that wrestling fans are the most impassioned of those that follow any sport.
To my knowledge it is the only one that has special rules set up by the Minnesota State High School League for state tournament coverage due to the fact that there are so many fans who want to get close to the action by becoming "members of the media" for the tournament.
Now, newspapers have to prove that their representatives with press credentials are members of their organization by submitting clips of stories and photos after the tournament or else they will be denied credentials the next year.
So, with a following that could be called fanatic, wrestling boosters had quite a shock from the surprise decision of the 15-member executive board of the IOC. The decision was by secret ballot and no reasons for the vote have been made public, making it even more perplexing and irritating.
To many, wrestling is synonymous with the Olympic games. It dates back to the ancient Greeks and was one of the sports in the first modern Olympics in 1896.
The threat of elimination is bringing together many unlikely partners. The outcry from Russia as well as Iran is as strong as the criticisms from the United States. Those are three unlikely countries to be working together.
In our country, it's also bringing together Democrats and Republicans, something that is very rare, as we all too well know. Rep. Tim Walz, representing the First District of Minnesota, introduced a resolution with an Iowa Democrat and an Ohio Republican expressing their opposition to the decision by the IOC to drop wrestling as a core sport.
In the resolution, which included comments from each representative, Walz noted, "Minnesota has a storied and rich wrestling heritage. This is especially true in southern Minnesota where wrestling gives students the confidence, courage and work ethic it takes to be successful, not only in the sport, but in life."
The day after that resolution was introduced in the House, Sen. Al Franken signed on to a similar bipartisan push in the Senate.
"As someone who grew up in Minnesota - where I wrestled in high school, where we've hosted the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials, and where the University of Minnesota is in contention for the national title every year - I can't express how deeply disappointing the decision is," Franken said in a statement.
Although wrestling is most popular in the north and Midwest, the decision is drawing feedback from across the country - and beyond. It isn't just the big countries, such as the United States and Russia, which have traditionally won many medals in the sport, that are complaining.
Opinions have come from Japan, India, Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan and other countries across the globe. Wrestlers from 71 nations, from Algeria to Vietnam, competed in the 2012 Olympics in London.
Politicians and officials from around the world will be trying to get that decision reversed before it is made permanent in the fall, but the outlook doesn't look bright.
Whatever happens on the international stage will happen, but for now Chatfield has a state tournament to look forward to. It's a good bet that not only the rabid fans that follow the sport all year long will be in attendance, but also many casual fans swept up in the excitement.
The Chatfield wrestlers, whether they might have had Olympic dreams or not, put a lot of work and many hours into getting to where they are going.
Congratulations are in order for their hard work, confidence and courage and, it almost goes without saying, people from across the region wish them good luck at state.
The IOC may not feel the sport is worthy of a core sport at the Olympics, but the Chatfield wrestlers have earned the spotlight in our corner of the world.
Now, stay tuned to the individual wrestling tournament this weekend. Some more talented wrestlers in school districts across the section will likely follow the Chatfield team in the individual competition at the Minnesota state tournament, which is our version of the Olympics.