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Local wrestling community irked over IOC's decision

The local wrestling community was surprised and aggravated over Tuesday's announcement that wrestling could be dropped from the 2020 Olympics, but their emotions were tempered with some optimism.

The International Olympic Committee executive board voted on the recommendation.

Wrestling will still be included at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"A lot of kids come and go through wrestling and very few get to the Olympics, but the idea of having one of oldest sports cut is a tragedy," longtime Crater coach Greg Haga said.

Said North Medford head coach Nolan Harris: "On a personal level I'm shocked."

United States Olympian Ken Chertow, who was at North Medford High on Tuesday instructing a clinic, said the IOC's decision is not final and that he and others will fight it.

Chertow is a three-time NCAA All-American and three-time Academic All-American at Penn State University.

"The Olympics is a great event and wrestling is a special part of it," Chertow said in an email. "I know many of my local students and campers across the nation aspire to be Olympians and it motivates them to stay focused on their short-term goals both on and off the mats. Wrestling develops not only a strong body but also a strong mind. There is no way our wrestling community will accept this recommendation by the IOC executive board. This is a battle we can win and I expect wrestling will remain an Olympic Sport in 2020 and forever."

Chertow said that the International Amateur Wrestling Federation, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Wrestling did not expect the announcement.

"None of these leadership groups anticipated that wrestling was being considered for this," Chertow said.

The next step, Chertow said, is for the IOC executive board to recommend a sport for the final spot in the 2020 Olympics. Wrestling will be considered for the position along with seven other sports during a meeting in May in St. Petersburg, Russia. The IOC will vote on the final program for the 2020 Olympics in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Harris said he already had some concerns about the health of the sport, and Tuesday's news didn't ease those.

"I am concerned as a high school coach where it could go, but I've already been concerned with the numbers for a while," Harris said. "It could have a trickle-down effect. I'm concerned it will. It depends on how the NCAA views it and how the OSAA views it. Numbers wise, wrestling is already a tough sell. It is a difficult sport and it's hard to sell to kids. You have to work your tail off and it takes a while to get good at it."

The idea that a sport so suited for Olympic competition could be cut is surprising, said Haga, who once wrestled in Greece as a college wrestler at Southern Oregon. It is an ancient activity and nearly 200 nations from all continents participate in it. Locally, wrestling greats like David Schultz and Les Gutches went on to compete in the Olympics.

"Wrestling is one of those sports where some of the smaller countries can still have a medalist or champion," Haga said. "In basketball, for example, it's going to be tough for a small country to compete for an Olympic medal. If you look at the history of medals, people in small countries have won."

Added Harris: "Wrestling is a cheap sport. It's inexpensive. All you need in wrestling is a workout partner."

Harris takes issue with reported concerns over wrestling not being entertaining enough.

"The Olympics should be a showcase for sports that don't get the fanfare," Harris said. "When did amateur athletics become about ratings and sponsorships? Ratings? The Olympics can't become about money."

Haga is optimistic that wrestling will prevail.

"The sport of wrestling has endured a lot over hundreds of years and wrestling may be on the brink, but I think the influence of the rest of the world will help bring back wrestling to the Olympics," he said. "I just think the U.S. and the world will kick it into gear and put a little heat on the (IOC board), where it is reinstated or does not even get to that point."

Harris, too, believes there is still plenty of reason for hope.

"I've got to think with the exposure wrestling is getting through MMA and the fanfare of pay-per-view events that there is a thread there that we still love combat sports," he said.

Chertow will return to the Rogue Valley for a camp in Ashland July 11-14. For more information, visit kenchertow.com.

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com