Local wrestlers applaud Olympic decision

A big announcement saved the long-time Olympic sport of wrestling, which was on the chopping block until a campaign to save it came through Sunday and local wrestlers, coaches and Olympians are cheering the decision.

September 9, 2013 5:40:55 AM PDT
A big announcement saved the longtime Olympic sport of wrestling, which was on the chopping block until a campaign to save it came through Sunday. Chicago-area wrestlers, coaches and Olympians cheered the decision.

Ever since the decision last winter to drop wrestling as a core Olympic sport, the wrestling community battled back. The sport's international governing body was revamped and wrestling was reshaped to add more weight classes for women.

Illinois has produced many Olympic wrestlers and coaches. They all helped bring the sport back.

The Chicago area's wrestling community came together to celebrate the International Olympic Committee's decision to reinstate one of the oldest Olympic sports, wrestling.

"The Olympics is the pinnacle of wrestling, it's the Superbowl for football, the World Series for baseball, the top of the top that is what I aspire to be," said Northwestern University wrestler Jason Tsirtsis.

If he stays on track, Tsirtsis' goal is to make the 2020 Olympic team, the year the IOC decided wrestling would be dropped until the Federation of Associated Wrestling styles known as FILA staged a campaign to get the sport reinstated. Up against squash and a joint bid by baseball-softball, the IOC voted overwhelming for wrestling.

"When you look at the number of countries that compete in wrestling in the Olympics, the sport is so fundamental to every culture in the world," said former two-time Olympic wrestler Jim Gruenwald.

Despite Sunday's good news, Gruenwald says the fight to save wrestling is far from over. The IOC reinstated the sport only for the 2020 and 2024 games.

"I'd like to see this just as a stepping stone and us pushing back to a core sport position," he said.

And no one knows the importance of making it to the top and having it taken away better then Lee Kemp. A three-time world champion, Kemp made the 1980 Olympic team, but the boycott prevented him from competing. He will fight to make sure the Olympic dream stays alive for many more generations.

"Without the Olympic Games, I might not ever have wrestled, so you really need something to aspire to," he said.

The wrestling community will fight to keep its sport beyond the 2024 games by expanding weight classes and increasing its popularity.

Sunday's celebration with former and aspiring Olympians from the Chicago area was sponsored by Beat the Streets Chicago, an organization that develops the urban youth wrestling community.

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