Jordan Burroughs has one Olympic wrestling gold medal to his name. He wants to win another one and maybe a third.
The reigning Olympic 74-kilogram champion said during this past week’s NCAA wrestling tournament that he will evaluate where his freestyle career is headed after the 2016 Games — potentially the last Olympiad where Burroughs’ sport will be included.
“For me it’s always been about wrestling as long as I can and as long as I love the sport,” Burroughs said. “I want to decide whether I want to continue to wrestle to 2020 or not. For me, I always wanted that to be my own decision and not the (International Olympic Committee’s).”
Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, himself an Olympic gold medalist, was able to end his international career on his own terms as Burroughs is desperately hoping to do. Now, along with new leadership, the sports most recognizable faces are working more efficiently and with more focus than ever to reorganize and make their case before the IOC for reconsideration.
Holding one of the hottest tournaments in history could only help raise awareness for wrestling’s plight, right?
Sanderson thinks so. The Penn State coach called this past week’s NCAA tournament the sport’s showcase event, got misty-eyed when asked if he thought the 2013 version of the NCAA Championships would lend momentum to the cause.
“It’s critical for us as a world and as a country to keep this sport strong. It really represents — I don’t want to get all deep, but I love wrestling,” Sanderson said.
Earlier, Sanderson voiced his opinion that the NCAA tournament was a perfect example of the growth and excitement surrounding the sport.
The 2013 finals featured hotly-contested championship bouts at nearly every weight. There was the heated rivalry bout at 133 pounds between Iowa’s Tony Ramos and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber, an electrifying back-and-forth battle at 125 pounds between Penn State’s Nico Megaludis and Illinois’ Jesse Delgado and the most anticipated match in the history of the sport at 165 pounds.
The NCAA changed the order of the finals for the first time in the event’s history. It did so to placate a national television audience that was more than willing to stay up to watch Cornell’s Kyle Dake go for his fourth NCAA title at his fourth different weight class with reigning Hodge Trophy Winner David Taylor of Penn State standing in his way.
“I think that the NCAA tournament has the greatest fan support just from sheer numbers and TV exposure,” Sanderson said. “It happens to be my favorite wrestling event of the year. Anyone that comes to the national tournament, they’re coming back, that’s just the way it works. That’s why the tickets are so hard to get.”
And while the fight to get wrestling back on the 2020 docket will be hard, those who will continue the battle are getting more organized by the day.
Just days after the IOC conducted its secret vote to cut wrestling, then-FILA president Raphael Martinelli resigned after FILA membership passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Nenad Lalovic was named the acting president of FILA shortly thereafter.
Now, grassroots efforts have become well-oiled organizations. Bill Scherr, a former Team USA member and coach is the chair voice of CPOW (The Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling).
Wrestling legend Dan Gable is also a member of CPOW and also joined Scherr, Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan and Burroughs for a panel discussion on Friday about the future of wrestling as an Olympic sport.
“The very top level is the Olympic Games for wrestling, unlike many of the other sports that are in there,” Gable said. “(For them) It’s more like, ‘Hey, let’s go there and have some fun.’ We go there and we’re serious.”
And a better relationship and negotiation strategies with the IOC were what FILA needed, Scherr said.
“That new leadership is now willing to work with the IOC to get back into the core program,” Scherr said. “Make no mistake about it. We vehemently disagree with the decision of the IOC. But, also make no mistake, the fault lies with the leadership of wrestling and not the process or the individuals of the IOC.”
On a recent trip to Iran, Burroughs saw first-hand the love for the sport by Iranian fans who held ‘Save Olympic wrestling’ signs written in both Farsi and English.
“We’ve formed a camaraderie,” Burroughs said. “We’ve definitely established a brotherhood and we’re linking up to try to reverse this decision.”
In the United States, leaders in Congress are also mobilizing. Jordan, a Republican representative from Ohio’s fourth congressional district, has co-sponsored a resolution to support wrestling’s continued inclusion in the Olympics.
Jordan was an NCAA champion for Wisconsin during his college career.
Iowa democrat Dave Loebsack and Minnesota’s Tim Walz, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, are also sponsors of the resolution.
“From the day that it happened, in Ohio, in our district, no matter where I am, someone comes up and talks to me about this crazy decision,” Jordan said. “We have strong bi-partisan support for wrestling, talking about the great history it has in this country and around the world. It is strong. You are seeing it and feeling it. This is one of those issues where party lines aren’t a problem. We are working together to protect the sport and make sure it remains in the Olympic Games.”