On February 12th, 2013, the International Olympic Committee made an unexpected change to the 2020 Olympic Games that would stun a core part of the Penn State community and Penn State athletics. Penn State Wrestling, which won consecutive NCAA national titles in 2011 and 2012, has been an integral component in the success of athletics here at PSU. Although winning the NCAA Championship is a monumental success, many of Penn State’s wrestlers are looking forward in hopes of winning the one and only — an Olympic gold medal.
Wrestling, one of the Olympic’s original and most widely practiced sports, has been dropped from the 2020 Olympics despite its position on the schedule for the 2016 Games. Wrestling coaches, athletes and fans alike, reacted in an immediate call for action to save the sport and keep it’s permanent spot in the Olympics.
Penn State Wrestling head coach Cael Sanderson, a 2004 Olympic Champion and 4-time NCAA champion, was interviewed on Jim Rome about his thoughts and reactions on the surprise decision.
“It’s hard to believe..it’s really hard to believe. There’s too many little kids dreaming about winning gold medals; I mean, we have kids on our program here, at Penn State, dreaming about winning gold medals since they were little kids,” he said.
One of those kids is 125-pound 2012 NCAA Runner-up Nico Megaludis, currently ranked 2nd in NCAA for the 2013 season.
“I think it’s very realistic for Penn State guys to be thinking about the Olympics. I mean, you got Quentin Wright, David Taylor, the Alton’s, me — I think we have a ton of guys who can make it. I mean, even here at the training center we have Jake Varner who won in the Olympics and Coach Sanderson.”
Other wrestlers on Penn State’s team were tweeting immediately after the news broke, including 2012 National Champion David Taylor. Taylor tweeted “I have envisioned myself winning an Olympic gold medal since I was eight years old #SaveOlympicWrestling” to promote the cause. He followed up with another message to wrestling fans: “We can not wait, as a wrestling community we need to take initiative to save the future of our sport #SaveOlympicWrestling #actnow.”
The IOC will meet again in May in St. Petersburg, Russia to finalize their decisions on the 2020 Olympics. Megaludis explained that there would be numerous political influences that would affect the final verdict.
“Personally, I can’t see it going through. I mean Russia is the best country in the world for wrestling. Everyone is tweeting about this and stuff and coming together; I just can’t see it actually happening,” he said.
Aside from any political influence, Megaludis also commented on Coach Sanderson’s influences in the sport.
“He’s definitely someone with a strong opinion and when he wants something, he’ll go out and get it. I mean he said, to us wrestlers, ‘Wrestlers are the biggest pain in the butt. We’re gonna work to get something until we get it.'”
Wrestlers have been known to the rest of the sports world for a number of reasons: their insane dietary habits in order to make weight, their nearly-impossible work out regimens and the intense one-on-one competitions.
And while an Olympic medal in any sport is an accomplishment, a gold medal in a sport as old and legendary as wrestling makes for an even more extraordinary journey. I believe the essence of wrestling was best captured by Coach Sanderson in his Jim Rome interview:
“Wrestling is as old as mankind. Wrestling is a sport where anybody can be successful, but it requires hard work. There’s weight classes: the smallest guy can be successful, the biggest guy can be successful. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what resources you have. If you’re willing to work hard you can be successful in wrestling.”