The International Olympic Committee, or IOC, announced Tuesday that wrestling would not be a part of the Olympics beginning in 2020, drawing harsh criticism from the MSU wrestling community.
When MSU wrestling coach Tom Minkel heard the news, he was surprised, and knew it was just the beginning of what he estimates will be a long struggle to get his sport back in the Games.
“I don’t think anybody on the planet expected this,” Minkel said. “It’s completely out of the blue. Completely unexpected. Completely inappropriate.”
Minkel has a history with the Olympics.
He was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, served as the assistant coach in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, and was the head coach of the U.S. team in Barcelona, Spain in 1992.
Minkel was the second vice president for USA Wrestling from 1984-1986 and served as president from 1986-1990.
“I don’t care whether you’re bringing in skateboarding or table tennis, wrestling belongs in the Olympics,” he said. “Wrestling people are not going to roll over and go, ‘We’re not in the Olympics, that’s too bad.’ (The IOC) will see an uproar unlike anything they’ve seen before.”
The United States Olympic Committee already has petitioned the Obama administration to “Put pressure on the IOC to overturn their decision to drop wrestling from the Olympics in 2020,” and many wrestlers and fans alike have started #SaveOlympicWrestlingon Twitter.
Minkel said even though the expectation for Olympic-level wrestling is to be more sportsmanlike than at the collegiate level, that is not always the case. He referenced the political nature of the sport as a possible cause of the harsh decision.
“I’ve seen some stuff not within the spirit of the Olympic Games,” Minkel said, declining to go into specifics. “My feeling, although I’m not involved in the Olympic effort anymore, is that this was something similar to that. It might be corrupt, it might be pressure, it might have to do with the worst of humanity.”
Anthony Jones Jr. wrestled at MSU from 2007 to 2012, and along with other Spartan wrestlers, said the act by the IOC is hurtful.
Still, he has his eyes set on competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — potentially his only opportunity to do so.
“I put everything into training,” Jones said. “It pretty much defines who I am as a man. It’s crazy to lose it so fast without any reasons why.”
Wrestling at the Olympics includes competition in both the freestyle and Greco-Roman styles, and dates back to the first modern Games in Athens, Greece in 1896.
Jones said the impact this could have on college and youth wrestling is immense.
“You’re supposed to be living through someone else, and you think you can achieve these dreams,” he said. “Now, seeing it being taken away, we question our reason for wrestling and question our reason for the sport. Now that the pinnacle of our sport is gone, what do we look forward to?”
It was all business for the IOC, who decided wrestling was the sport that needed to be cut in order for them to add golf and rugby.
“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, according to the Associated Press. “In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling, it is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”
Wrestling will join baseball, softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu in competing for a single available spot in the 2020 Games.
Minkel said the Olympics are the apex of every wrestler’s career, and it would be inconceivable for the sport not to be a part of the Games.
“At this point, the fight’s not over,” Minkel said. “In fact, it hasn’t even begun yet. We have to do what we can to create a backlash against this hell.”