Brad Hildebrandt said Tuesday that it will be bad enough if the elimination of wrestling from the Olympics snatches a dream from the thousands of youths in the sport.
But what concerns the Omaha Skutt coach the most is what might follow.
“It maybe gives people an excuse to eliminate wrestling out of more universities, which is just devastating,” Hildebrandt said. “I hope that doesn't happen, but that's a fear of mine.”
With the Nebraska state wrestling tournament starting Thursday in Omaha, the news coming out of the International Olympic Committee is sure to be a hot topic at the CenturyLink Center.
Hildebrandt said he talked to a contact at USA Wrestling on Tuesday morning who told him they “had no idea” that such an announcement was coming. The proposed change would go into effect with the 2020 Summer Games.
“I know that there had been talk in the past about eliminating Greco-Roman out of it but, geez, never eliminating wrestling completely,” he said. “Yeah, it was a huge blindside. That'll hurt us as a sport.”
As far as an overall cost? Nebraska coach Mark Manning said in a released statement that removing wrestling from the Olympics “would have a far-reaching impact on our sport.”
“It not only greatly affects our current Olympic athletes and future Olympians, but it would also damage the sport at the collegiate, high school and youth levels,” Manning said.
Grand Island High coach Mike Schadwinkel said his reaction was “absolute shock.” He also shared concerns about a possible trickle-down effect when other “Olympic sports” are still offered at the college level.
“How many administrators will say, 'Why are we keeping it around?'” Schadwinkel said.
Despite the news, Millard South coach Doug Denson doesn't see why the growth and popularity of wrestling in the U.S. have to necessarily be compromised by any coming change. It will have the biggest effect, Denson said, on the elite wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center or touring the world.
Denson also is hesitant to predict an impact at the college level as long as the NCAA tournament continues to keep seats filled, universities see the sport as a way to draw kids to their school and it remains popular at the grass-roots level.
“I think people in the U.S. are going to lament that you don't have a chance to earn a gold medal at the world level like that, but for 90-some percent of kids it's not going to mean that much,” Denson said. “It's not going to hit home.”
The IOC executive board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program, with modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey believed to be among the others considered most at risk. It will allow a new sport to be added to the 2020 program later this year, with wrestling going into a pool of seven other sports applying for inclusion in 2020.
Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at the 2012 Games. In addition to its ancient roots, the sport goes back to the inaugural modern Olympics held in Athens in 1896.
The board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission that analyzed 39 criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity.
“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports.”
After the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Hildebrandt said the annual world championships will have to become the target for the greats in the sport.
“But the ultimate dream of a wrestler is to be an Olympic champion,” Hildebrandt said. “The world championships are pretty special, but to be an Olympic champ is the highest goal.”
Hildebrandt said that dream can start coming to the surface for some of the top youths at as young as 10 or 12, as with gymnastics or swimming or track and field. He called the sport a “great life-builder.”
“It creates so much opportunity for all sorts of different types of athletes and different abilities and different sizes of kids,” he said. “I know it is not the most popular sport — I know they call it a niche sport — but it's pretty important for us that are involved in it.”
Wrestling had the fourth-most participants, 4,419, of any boys sport sanctioned by the Nebraska School Activities Association during the 2011-12 season. Football had the most, followed by track and basketball.
Hildebrandt said many in the local wrestling community are still hurting from the cutting of UNO's program in 2011. Hildebrandt, a former Maverick wrestler, said the elimination of any more college programs would only further cut opportunities for high school wrestlers to get an education and remain in the sport.
“Without wrestling, I would not be in Omaha, never be a coach or a firefighter, and the chain of events in my life wouldn't happen the way they have,” said Hildebrandt, from Griswold, Iowa. “And I'm just one of the many.”
Denson said “folkstyle” wrestling in the U.S. from the youth to college levels remains popular, as opposed to freestyle and Greco-Roman. It also becomes individualized as U.S. wrestlers attempt to qualify, and hard to follow.
“I would argue if wrestling at the Olympic level were duals between countries, you'd probably still have it,” he said.
Aside from the recent cut at UNO, Denson pointed out that college wrestling remains strong in Nebraska. In addition to NU, there's national power UNK and Chadron State in Division II, and Doane is adding the sport next season to join Hastings, Midland and Concordia in the Great Plains Athletic Conference in NAIA.
“I think we're on pretty solid footing,” Denson said. “We just fight the good fight and keep kids excited and involved.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1042, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/RKaipustOWH