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Down for the count: Olympics drops wrestling

Iran's Komeil Ghasemi (L) wrestles U.S.' Tervel Ivaylov Dlagnev in their Men's 120kg Freestyle bronze medal match on Aug. 11, 2012 during the wrestling event of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Olympic wrestling’s history goes all the way back to the original games in ancient Greece. But it will end at the 2016 games in Brazil. On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee moved to drop the sport, a decision that shocked Olympic observers and has drawn heavy criticism. Barring an unexpected shift in the I.O.C.’s position, a storied sport will lose its highest-profile event.

Olympic sports come and go. Baseball’s last medal ceremony was in 2008, but it’s doing fine because of its popular professional leagues. Less-visible sports like wrestling rely on the quadrennial Olympic boost to stay financially healthy. Wrestlers, coaches and fans of the sport are now gravely worried about its future.

This is the worst blow to wrestling, but not the only one. Many American colleges have cut their wrestling programs because of scarce budgets and Title IX requirements to equally support women’s athletics.

“Wrestling unfortunately has become an endangered sport in the last 20 years,” says Mike Finn, editor of Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine.

To compete internationally, wrestlers need sponsors to pay for training and travel. That money will be harder to come by without the power of the Olympics’ global stage.

“If you do not have the Olympics and all you have is the world championships, a lot of those people that have helped support wrestling, those corporations, may not be there.” Finn adds. “That is the biggest concern.”

Wrestling is relatively healthy at the high school level. The National Federation of State High School Associations counts nearly 300,000 American wrestlers in its latest data. That makes it about as popular as swimming and diving. But those numbers could drop if there’s no hope of Olympic glory.

“Every kid who’s ever been an athlete always imagines himself playing in the big game,” says College of the Holy Cross sports economist Victor Matheson. “If you don’t see the great wrestlers standing on the podium, getting that gold medal draped over their necks, it’s hard to imagine yourself being the great star and the great athlete.”

And wrestling fans find it hard to imagine an Olympics without one of its original sports.

Kai Ryssdal: Wrestling is, perhaps, the original sporting event. It goes all the way back to the Olympics in ancient Greece. But it's likely to be down for the count when the flame goes out after the 2016 games in Brazil.

Today, the International Olympic Committee recommended getting rid of wrestling. The criticism has been fast and furious. Truth is, Olympic events come and go. Baseball's last medal ceremony was in 2008, but it's doing fine because of popular professional leagues. Less-visible sports like wrestling rely on the quadrennial boost to stay financially healthy. Marketplace's Mark Garrison reports on what will happen to wrestling after the Olympic mat is pulled out from under it.


Mark Garrison: For Mike Finn, editor of Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine, this is just the latest and greatest blow.

Mike Finn: Wrestling unfortunately has become an endangered sport in the last 20 years.

Many college programs have gotten the ax as schools deal with scarce budgets and legal requirements to equally support women’s athletics.

To compete internationally, wrestlers need sponsors. Finn worries money will dry up without the Olympics’ global stage.

Finn: A lot of those people that have helped support wrestling, those corporations, may not be there.

Nearly 300,000 American high schoolers wrestled last year, making it about as popular as swimming and diving. But that number could drop if there’s no hope of Olympic glory. Victor Matheson is a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross.

Victor Matheson: Every kid who’s ever been an athlete always imagines himself playing in the big game. If you don’t see the great wrestlers standing on the podium, getting that gold medal draped over their necks, it’s hard to imagine yourself being the great star and the great athlete.

And wrestling fans find it hard to imagine the Olympics without one of its original sports. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter for Marketplace and substitute host for the Marketplace Morning Report, based in New York.
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I'm glad to see the Olympics finally drop all vestiges and pretense of being amateur and traditional. They are an entertainment and media franchise like all other professional "sports" - yes, and some college sports. I will now drop them as I have the NHL and similar consumer-hostile business entities. Let's keep sports, like politics, local.

Just seems a little crazy to drop. Why not just drop Grecco/Roman which seems to exist simply because it's an Olympic sport and keep Freestyle which people actually DO. If something has to go why not one of the sailing events (2 person dinghy I'm looking at you), or team archery (seems an absurd team sport), mens field hockey perhaps? Also Please take out the non-athletic parts of equestrian events. Wrestling or no, those have got to go

I guess track and field event are next?

And Trampolining is still an Olympic sport. Are you serious?

is trampolining even a word? yes, no more trampol thingy in the olympics

I will not watch the olympics if they exclude wrestling. Drop Beach Volleyball.

As I just Tweeted, I will gladly boycott the Olympics if they drop wrestling.. Wrestling is core to the Olympic story and now fuels the fastest growing sport in the world, MMA. What does swimming and gymnastics fuel?

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