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OlympicsField of Play: Rocking the Olympic foundation

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | 10:46 AM

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Carol Huynh of Hazelton, B.C., grapples to a bronze medal in 48-kg freestyle  wrestling at the London Olympics on Aug. 8, 2012. (Yuri Cortez/GettyImages) Carol Huynh of Hazelton, B.C., grapples to a bronze medal in 48-kg freestyle wrestling at the London Olympics on Aug. 8, 2012. (Yuri Cortez/GettyImages)

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Canadian Olympians and officials are outraged by an International Olympic Committee executive board recommendation to remove wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games.

The death grip that the International Olympic Committee executive board has put on the sport of wrestling's future in the Games came from the blind side.

"I can't believe it, I'm shocked," said two-time Olympic medallist Carol Huynh of Hazelton, B.C.

"I'm feeling a little heartbroken and I'm worried about what this might mean for the development of wrestling in Canada.  I just can't believe that the IOC would vote one of the oldest Olympic sports out."

Officials inside the sport voiced similar reactions.

"We are deeply surprised," Wrestling Canada president Don Ryan said.

"It is disappointing to potentially lose this important sport from the Canadian Olympic Team roster in 2020," stated Marcel Aubut of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Louder and perhaps more meaningful than the comments of the officials were the voices of Canadian Olympians who spoke up on Twitter, expressing a deeper understanding of what wrestlers mean to the Games in general.

"They are warriors," tweeted three-time gold medallist and rower Marnie McBean.

McBean, one of Canada's most decorated rowers, was referring to the iconic Canadian grapplers who'd ascended the podium in recent times like Tonya Verbeek, Daniel Igali and Huynh. 

"#IOC shocker," McBean concluded.

"Without wrestling in the Olympics we would have never seen Daniel Igali dancing and crying around the Canadian flag," said Duff Gibson, a gold medallist in skeleton.

Gibson was, of course, referring to the emotional moment when Igali, a Nigerian refugee, produced Canada's first Olympic wrestling championship at the 2000 Sydney Games. Igali used the notoriety won in his adopted country to return to Nigeria and rebuild schools and help coach African wrestlers on the international stage.

"Seems wrong to include golf yet remove one of the oldest purest and most physical sports," wrote former world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien.

Felicien was alluding to the fact that wrestling has been on the program since the first modern Olympics. But it was also at the Ancient Games and joined the elemental running and throwing sports contested in Olympia in around 700 BC.

Now if that isn't a core sport, what is?

Wrestling is not complicated. Little equipment is required. It is a confrontation between two opponents of similar weight. It is a struggle of body, mind and will. It is, in a very real sense, the embodiment of the Olympic ideal -- "Faster, Higher, Stronger" -- and all that is derived from those three words.

"Please Retweet to help save wrestling," exhorted bobsleigh brakeman Jesse Lumsden from his training camp in Sochi, Russia. "It was a part of the first modern Olympics in 1896."

Indeed, wrestling has been a part of every Games since. In London last summer, 344 athletes from 71 nations took part in the Olympic wrestling tournament and 29 different countries won medals. A diversity of nations like the United States, Iran, India, Japan, Russia and, yes, Canada, came to be represented on the podium.

If that isn't depth of competition and universal appeal, what is?

"There are more than 180 countries that participate in wrestling," Huynh said. "I worry about the development of the sport if it is taken out of the Games."

It is a valid concern. The Olympics mean credibility for a sport as fundamental as wrestling. This is a sport that is instinctual to human beings. We wrestle from the time we are children and we used to learn it in physical education class at school -- until some luminary foolishly decided to eliminate such activity as a part of education's core curriculum. Wrestling, that struggle between two like-minded opponents, is an essential part of growing up.

"Five sports ... should get the boot before wrestling," tweeted Olympic marathoner Reid Coolsaet. His sport is also central to the Games and, just like wrestling, involves a fierce test of body, mind and will.

'We will persevere'

Why is it that the stewards of the Games continue to stray from the original values that made them the greatest recurring spectacle on Earth? By doing so, they are risking the very foundation on which the Olympics were built. And make no mistake about it, wrestling is not just a core sport of the Olympics, it's a foundation sport.

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part," said the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin. "The essential thing is not conquering but fighting well."

That is what wrestling is all about. Fighting well.

And while the future looks bleak in light of decision makers who seem infatuated with broadcast revenues and sponsorship dollars, the struggle for control on this ancient field of play is far from over.

"We will persevere no matter what," Huynh vowed.

Because that's what wrestlers and all Olympians do best.

Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay  

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