The International Olympic Committee stunned many on Tuesday by voting wrestling out of the 2020 Summer Games. It was one of several sports on the ballot up for consideration, but given its history with the Games and participation rate, it didn’t appear in jeopardy. Former gold medalist Rulon Gardner says the sport still has time to argue its way back in.
Rulon Gardner joined KOA in Denver with Dave Logan to discuss the surprise of wrestling being dropped, if he thinks it’s about TV ratings, some of the other sports that are still in the Olympics, what he would change about the Games and this decision crushing the dreams of many young people around the world.
Had you heard anything leading up to this suggesting that wrestling was in danger of being dropped?:
“We heard something back in 2002, 11 years ago now, that they were talking about replacing one of the disciplines — either freestyle or Greco — that was a rumor, but they came back and realized that the participation rate in wrestling was so much greater than they thought. Realistically, in last year’s Olympics, there was 28 different countries that won medals in wrestling. … It’s not just one country of origin like some of the other sports that have been cut. It’s a worldwide sport. At the end of the day, it comes down to politics and what have you done for us lately?”
Do you think this is a TV ratings thing?:
“I think it comes down to mainstream media and the marketplace. They’re talking about even dropping the name Olympics and just being The Games. I think it’s about your history. Greco-Roman and marathon are the two original Olympic sports, and to cut one of the Olympic sports I think is a shame. … It’s about amateur athletics, the competition and the world coming together and compete. … Wrestling is a foundation of humanity and ultimately the world. At the end of the day, I think we’re still going to have a chance to fight for it. The final decision isn’t made until September.”
On some of the other sports that are still part of the Olympics:
“That’s the complexing part of this, because you look at wrestling, it’s probably more mainstream. But for me, I don’t want to go, ‘Well, we’re more deserving of the spot than whatever sport.’ … You look at revenues, and I’ve looked at those numbers today, and it’s in the billion dollars that the IOC makes. Instead of allowing more sports to come in, they want to cut people off. … We want to show that wrestling is part of the Olympic movement and should be a part of it in the future.”
What would you change about how the Olympics are run?:
“It’s hard because who do you change? It’s not like they have one person you can go to and say, ‘This is right and this is wrong.’ I think it just comes down to, basically, public opinion. … Russia has dominated the wrestling movement. I had a reporter from Russia call me today and they said, ‘Could it be that they don’t like Russia?’ … I don’t know if it’s that. I think it’s just the wrong people voted on it and we just have to convince them.:
They talk about being modern, but as you say, there are an awful lot of young people getting involved in wrestling:
“Oh yeah. I was in Turkmenistan, visiting them. … I actually came back and did a wrestling clinic and we had 150 youth wrestlers from there come in. It’s one of the national team sports. It’s just an obscure, former Russian country, and it’s almost like their national team sport. To do this, you’re basically going to drop the dream of hundreds of thousands of wrestlers around the world.”
Listen to Rulon Gardner on KOA in Denver here (Interview begins at 10:30)