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    Posted March 26, 2013 by
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    Olympic Gold Wrestler Gardner Takes IOC to the Mat

    When Rulon Gardner pulled off the surprise upset of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia to win the gold medal in wrestling, little did he know that 13 years later, his beloved sport would be in jeopardy. Just last month, the sport of wrestling, the oldest sport in Olympic history, was booted out of future Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), beginning in 2020.
    “That was a black day for the world of wrestling,” said Gardner, who appeared recently on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. “Youngsters around the world have been taking up the sport of wrestling for decades, and this decision by the IOC not only tampers with the rich tradition and centuries of the sport, but it also will deprive those young men (and women) from almost two hundred countries, a shot at the Olympic Games – and maybe even an opportunity to change their lives.”
    Gardner is referring to the harsh reality that the decision to drop wrestling as an Olympic sport is about the IOC snubbing its nose at a sport that has drawn young people of less than privileged backgrounds, from small towns and villages, with little fancy equipment. "Buy a singlet and start rolling. Sure, there's training involved, yet that's true of any sport,” he said.
    “Wrestling is an original sport since the dawn of the Olympics and the trickledown effect of the IOC’s decision at the high school and collegiate levels, as well as in countries where wrestling is one of only a few organized sports available to youth, will be shocking,” said Gardner. “Olympic wrestling has everything to do with keeping our sport healthy, all the way down to the grass-roots level,” he said. “Young wrestlers deserve to be able to dream of being an Olympic champion.”
    But the elimination of wrestling hurts not just young wrestlers but the spirit of the Olympic Games itself. In wrestling, an Olympic medal actually matters. That is the ultimate dream of young kids, like Gardner was who may be from some dusty village, small town, farm or depressed neighborhood. Wrestling has often been the ticket for many of these children out of disadvantage to discipline, physical strength, mental toughness, and enough success to be able to live healthy, whole lives. Wrestling has also been a means for these kids to achieve financial security, as well as even being the proud flag bearer for his or her nation at the Games.
    Wrestling also benefits athletes from other sports, including football. According to Hall of Fame football Coach John Madden, who was quoted as saying, “I would have all of my offensive linemen wrestle if I could.” What Madden was referring to was that those who play football and want to become better at the sport should think about adding wrestling to their athletic resume. They won’t only have an edge on physical skills, but wrestling teaches self-control, discipline, ambition, perseverance and dedication say many coaches and trainers.
    During the London Olympics in 2012, 29 countries won medals in wrestling. “That’s exactly the kind of broad-based sport that deserves some Olympic stature every four years,” said Gardner.
    Gardner is a decorated wrestler who rose to fame in 2000 with his stunning gold-medal upset of Russian Alexander Karelin. He can attest to physical hardships growing up and financial set-backs in the years since his victory, but he is determined to secure some of his legacy and fight to preserve the sport. His story is bitter-sweet, and full of lessons-learned about how to dream it and do it. He is one of the leading figures in the group that has been formed by USA Wrestling to fight the IOC’s decision. The newly-formed group doesn’t have much time to change the IOC’s mind and is aggressively recruiting leaders from wrestling nations like Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Belarus.
    “We must form a coalition and work together to direct the energies of wrestling communities to support this common cause to keep wrestling in the Olympics,” said Gardner. “I would characterize this effort as a ‘call to arms’ to galvanize all wrestling advocates, sports influencers and athletes – on all fronts – to support this movement.”
    “This is like the last round of a title match,” he continued. “If we don’t fight this, we’re going to lose the sport, which would constitute a betrayal of the soul of the Olympics and the future of hundreds of thousands of young wrestlers around the world.”
    Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020.
    The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
    For more information about Rulon Gardner, the IOC ban and wrestling, go to http://rulongardner.com or on Twitter@rulongardner
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