Decreed from its headquarters in Switzerland, the IOC’s bombshell sent shockwaves throughout the wrestling community and the world — including Chapel Hill.
North Carolina wrestler Tanner Eitel admitted to tearing up when he first heard the news.
At Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, Texas, Eitel trained under Kenny Monday, who captured wrestling gold at the 1988 Games in Seoul.
His longtime coach and mentor inspired Eitel to dream about performing on the world’s biggest stage, a dream that abruptly shattered Tuesday morning.
Eitel had his sights set on the 2020 Games — in light of the IOC’s decision, he “won’t be afforded that opportunity.”
“It hurts,” Eitel said, “but I hope it’s just 2020 and not future Olympics.”
In its official press release announcing the removal of wrestling, the IOC cited its obligation to “remain relevant to sports fans of all generations.”
Never mind that, generationally speaking, wrestling predates the most distant ancestors of the committee members.
“I think it’s a shame that wrestling is the oldest sport known to man, and yet they’re talking about taking it out of the Olympics,” said North Carolina coach C.D. Mock.
But The Games have become as much about lucrative broadcasting rights fees and maximizing revenue as athletic valor. In weighing the interests of younger audiences, the IOC deemed wrestling a more prudent casualty than, say, depriving young males the sight of scantily clad women’s beach volleyball players.
“All of these sports that get on TV that people love to watch — they’re the ones they’re going to keep,” Mock said. “And that’s the way the world works.”
In a battle of dollars and cents, wrestling can’t even muster a dime.
“It’s all about money,” said Mock. “People get mad when you say that, but money rules the world, and that’s the way it is.”
Mock isn’t looking for martyrdom, however — he claims wrestling’s declining popularity is partly self-inflicted.
“As far as I’m concerned, wrestling in the Olympics is boring,” Mock said. “If you don’t know the guy, if you don’t know wrestling, if you’re not a wrestling coach or a wrestler, you’re not going to watch it.
“We need to do something about that, or it’s going to be done for us.”
The relative irrelevance of wrestling within the public sports arena belies its athletic integrity, said Mock and freshman Nathan Kraisser.
Mock pointed to the steady growth of high school wrestling as a clear sign of the sport’s vitality. And Kraisser, a four-time state champion in Maryland, is not ready to pen wrestling’s obituary.
“There’s still a lot of fans — not just (in the) U.S., but worldwide,” said Kraisser of the sport’s following. “I think it deserves more credit than it gets.
“I think we work harder than a lot of the other athletes — not to take anything away from the other athletes that are still in (the Olympics), but wrestlers work extremely hard. It’s one of the hardest-working sports out there.”
And without a professional league, wrestlers don’t have an alternative to The Games. It’s Olympics or bust.
If the IOC’s decision holds, wrestlers will hit a dead end after college. Bust will become an inescapable reality.
“They (IOC) continue to take away any possible chances of those individuals (in high school) of having a future beyond college,” Mock said. “And that’s really a shame.”
Tuesday’s announcement ignited a groundswell of indignation and uproar on social media. Eitel said he hoped the backlash would give the IOC pause.
That certainly appeared to be the case Wednesday, when IOC President Jacques Rogge agreed to meet with the president of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA).
Rogge and Raphael Martinetti, the president of FILA, will brainstorm ways to boost wrestling’s appeal and keep the sport in the Olympics. Martinetti has until September — before IOC membership can officially sound the death knell of wrestling — to placate Rogge and salvage the sport’s dwindling stature.
The business side of the Olympics, often unsightly, doesn’t taint Kraisser nor Eitel’s enthusiasm.
Competing under the glow of the Olympic torch remains a vision and ambition that the tentacles of the IOC will never touch.
“All my life, my greatest aspiration has been to compete in the Olympics,” Eitel said.
Likewise for Kraisser, who clings to optimism in hoping his passion, livelihood and pastime survives its trial of legitimacy.
“It’s kind of discouraging, but hopefully it can get reinstated,” Kraisser said.
“That would be great.”