IOC shatters wrestlers’ dreams

When Fredonia wrestler Dakota Gardner was in seventh grade, he told coach Alex Conti his goal was to be an Olympic wrestler.

Gardner, now a freshman at Fredonia, has all the tools to pursue that dream.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee announced plans to eliminate the sport from the Olympic Games in 2020.

“Dakota Gardner has the Olympic dream,” Conti said. “He wrestles like crazy. He has the genetic ability. He is at that age where 2020 affects him. He will be 23 when 2020 rolls around. That’s the guy it affects. He has that Olympic dream. He has had it since he was a seventh grader. That right there tells you that people look at the Olympics.”

The IOC’s decision to eliminate wrestling from the 2020 Olympic Games has been met with heavy criticism over the past week.

Conti, who was an assistant coach for the USA women’s freestyle wrestling squad at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, was equally as critical Friday night when discussing the IOC’s decision.

“I can’t believe the arrogance of the IOC to eliminate that sport the way they did,” he said. “It was cowardly. If they are going to eliminate the sport, give some forewarning. I just find it cowardly and very, very unfair. To pull the sport is a disservice and I think it’s going to have effects that can’t be measured.”

The decision could have a trickle down impact for college wrestling, high school wrestling and even youth wrestling. Without wrestling in the Olympics, if a student has scholarship offers for both baseball and wrestling, it would be easy for the student to decide on baseball since there is no chance at an Olympic opportunity in wrestling.

Eliminating wrestling from the Olympics will also give college athletic directors with tight budgets an excuse to cut the program.

“You talk about the trickle down, it’s already tough to be the top guy to make it to the Olympics,” Conti said. “Now to remove it all together, I have people who don’t know anything about wrestling who are enraged by this. They ask the same questions. ‘If they don’t have the dream of being an Olympian, why would they compete in the sport?’ If the parents can see it and say it, as a parent of wrestler, why wouldn’t they convince their child to do something else? That’s what I see happening. I feel so bad for those athletes. I can’t express how heart wrenching it is.”

The IOC’s decision was unexpected, as not many knew what was coming.

“There might have been some people on the absolute inside that might have said we have to be ready because this is happening,” Conti said. “The moment I heard it, I emailed Terry Snyder, who is head of women’s wrestling in the U.S., and he did not know about it.”

Wrestling is not one of the premier sports in America, but it is one of the top sports in Russia.

“When you go to Russia, they are superstars,” Conti said. “American John Smith was a four-time world champion, two-time Olympic champion. He had six straight years of medals. But if he walks down the street, you wouldn’t know him. In Russia or the Ukraine, if you’re an Olympic medalist, you’re like Tiger Woods. You are the hero of the country. They take care of you forever. That’s the difference.”

Though it is not official, and there is a chance for the games to return in 2024, it will have a big impact on wrestlers such as Gardner.

“If you don’t make the 2016 Olympics, 2020 is your dream,” Conti noted. “To have that dream taken away is not right. Even if they put it back in 2024, age becomes a factor. When you have the opportunity to work your craft and let the world see it on the grandest stage, it is the best. The IOC stole it away from these guys and girls and it’s heartbreaking. I know how hard some of these people work. You see the heartache in their eyes when they lose the Olympic Trials. I can’t imagine the heartache they will suffer with no Olympics. “The dream is squashed,” Conti continued. “It’s a sad, sad day. We are going to battle it. I believe we will have a platform and we will tell our story and show everyone why they should not cut it. I don’t believe in the IOC. I don’t believe they will do the right thing. I believe they will continue to do the popular thing and the thing that makes them the most money.”