by U.S. Sen. Al Franken, March 2013
When the International Olympic Committee recently recommended eliminating wrestling from the games starting in 2020, it struck me – and I’m sure a great many other Minnesotans – as not only a blow to Olympic tradition, but also as just plain wrong.
As a former high school wrestler from a state with a great wrestling tradition, I think this ill-considered decision should be reversed, and I have joined a growing chorus of people in the United States and across the world who have called on the IOC to reinstate the sport.
Wrestling taught me hard work, discipline and the ability to think on my feet (and on the mat), just as it has done for generations of athletes from this country and the more than 70 other countries who send wrestlers to the Olympics every four years.
No doubt, the sport’s absence would diminish the appeal of the games for many observers, but to me, much worse would be the loss of a place for wrestlers to compete at the highest level of international competition.
In other sports – like hockey, basketball, soccer and tennis – you can go “pro” (we former wrestlers don’t consider pro wrestling an actual “sport” – more an “entertainment”). In competitive wrestling, the Olympic games are as good as it gets. Stealing the gold-medal dreams of so many hard-working athletes across Minnesota and the world seems almost unforgivable – especially when sports with much less Olympic tradition remain Olympic sports.
Minnesota’s deep Olympic wrestling tradition spans decades
Former Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone attended the University of North Carolina on a wrestling scholarship, where he was an undefeated Atlantic Coast Conference champion. He and his two sons – who also excelled at wrestling – bonded over the sport.
I’m sure Paul would join me in opposing this decision, not simply as a wrestling partisan, but because he understood how much the sport means to so many communities, families and athletes in our state.
In Minnesota, our Olympic wrestling tradition has spanned many decades, with our state sending at least one wrestler to every Olympics since 1968. In fact, in 1972, Minnesota was chosen to host the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials at Anoka High School. Three U.S. wrestlers competing in those trials, including the legendary Dan Gable, won gold medals at the Munich Olympic games later that year.
Keeping with our state’s reputation for ground-breaking leadership, the University of Minnesota Morris, led by wrestling coach Doug Reese, was the first college in the nation to make women’s wrestling a varsity sport. By opening that door of opportunity in the 1990s, several of the school’s women wrestlers were able to compete and win national and international events. And it paved the way for New Ulm native Ali Bernard to compete in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic games.
Outside of Minnesota, many other states also have proud wrestling traditions and I have teamed up with a bipartisan group of senators from those states to introduce a resolution urging the IOC to reverse its decision to eliminate wrestling. In the U.S. House, Congressman Tim Walz from Minnesota is leading a similar effort.
The good news is the recent IOC vote is only a preliminary recommendation. The final decision will not be made until September, when the entire IOC will weigh in on the matter.
Between now and then, I hope the voices raised – both in the United States and internationally – will help restore wrestling to the Olympic games, where it has always been, and where it should stay. I know a great many Minnesotans – who understand our state’s great Olympic wrestling tradition – would agree.