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Graduating Huskies worried for future of Olympic wrestling

By in Sports & Health
Huskies assistant coach Jeff Adamson (right) represented Canada at the international Olympic trials for the London Olympic Games.
Huskies assistant coach Jeff Adamson (right) represented Canada at the international Olympic trials for the London Olympic Games.

The Huskies will lose wrestlers Ryan Myrfield, Landon Squires, Koren Pitkethly and Natasha Kramble to graduation next year. While most of them will be staying on with the Huskies program as members of the Saskatoon Wrestling Club, a group that trains with the Dogs, some want to go further and represent Canada at the Olympic Games.

That dream, however, is at risk.

On Feb. 12 the International Olympic Committee executive board recommended the removal of both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, the only two types of wrestling currently in the Olympics, from the internationally recognized games.

Huskies men’s team captain and three-time CIS champion Ryan Myrfield said the team was stunned by the news of the IOC’s recommendation.

“We were all kind of in shock; it was hard to tell exactly what was happening. No one could believe that it could even come to that,” Myrfield said.

In May the IOC will decide whether or not to ratify the recommendation. If it is ratified, wrestling will be up against karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, wushu, squash and baseball in a battle to see which sport can best lobby the IOC for the one available spot at the 2020 Olympic Games.

“With wrestling there is no professional league, so if you want to wrestle after university, the Olympics is the pinnacle,” said fifth-year wrestler Natasha Kramble. “So it’s a little bit disappointing to find out that [the sport] is in jeopardy.”

The IOC claimed its recommendation is based on a report that looked at television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy, global participation and popularity.

The recommendation has stirred the wrestling community around the world. Many are upset at the IOC’s executive board for even considering axing a sport that has such Olympic history.

“We are one of the original sports in the Olympics… so I don’t see how they could drop it and include something new that is just [a] fad,” Myrfield said.

Others in the wrestling community pointed to more recent evidence to counter the IOC’s report, citing that wrestling’s popularity has remained high enough to sell out tickets to events in all of the Olympics since 1996.

What’s more, the 2012 London Olympic Games saw 71 different countries represented in wrestling. Another 100 countries actively compete in other international competitions, making it one of the most highly practiced sports in the world.

Kramble says so many people participate in wrestling because it doesn’t require expensive equipment, making it affordable and practical for people to compete in countries where athletes receive little funding for Olympic training.

“Some sports, like tennis, you need to be extremely wealthy” to train for, she said. For example, “to compete in the modern pentathlon you need to have access to a horse and a gun.

“Wrestling is pretty much for everyone, and I don’t know why you’d want to make the Olympics less attainable for anyone.”

Kramble is one of the handful of Huskie athletes who have plans to compete at the Canadian Olympic trials for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“With the season I’ve had this year, I’ve been doing really well and I don’t think it makes sense to quit while you’re still improving,” said Kramble, who has placed in the top three in her weight class at the last three university nationals.

Myrfield also intends to continue wrestling despite his university eligibility having expired, and says he has dreamed of representing Canada in the Olympics since he was in grade school.

“It has always been my goal to make the senior national team and go to the Olympics,” Myrfield said.

“That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I was in elementary school, when I first started” wrestling.

The opportunity to make it to the Olympics is still available for these Huskies since the IOC’s decision will not affect the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Myrfield will be 26 years old in 2016, he understands that it is probably his best chance to compete on the biggest stage in sports but is concerned about younger wrestlers and their future dreams.

“If it’s gone from the Olympics, that’s a goal that so many young kids aren’t going to have anymore. It could potentially kill the sport.”

The possibility of a Huskie athlete going to the Olympics seems even more attainable with the help of former Huskies wrestler and now assistant coach Jeff Adamson. Adamson won the Canadian 84-kilogram Olympic trials for the London Olympic Games. However, at the three international Olympic qualifiers, only the top eight wrestlers in his weight class were granted spots in the 2012 games. Adamson finished outside of those top positions.

After getting so close to the competition, Adamson knows what it takes to train for the Olympics and is unsure if he wants to do it again for 2016.

“I really want to take my time in deciding whether I’m going to shoot for Brazil or not because it’s a big commitment in terms of training and time,” Adamson said, adding that the lack of national funding for his training would require him to balance wrestling and a job.

He understands that no final decisions have been made about wrestling’s Olympic future, but admits if the IOC removed wrestling by 2020, it would likely persuade him to push for a spot at the last Olympic Games wrestling would be in.

Despite the looming possibility of losing wrestling as an Olympic sport in 2020, the wrestling community remains optimistic that the IOC recommendation will be overturned.

“Ever since the decision came out there has been such a public outcry about it, I don’t see how it can go through,” said Myrfield, who is confident that the IOC executive board will hear wrestlers’ voices.

Adamson feels the IOC’s recommendation to cut wrestling has actually increased people’s interest in the sport.

“The good thing that has come out of this is that with them recommending that [wrestling] be taken out of 2020, it has gotten so many people, who never really cared about wrestling, excited about wrestling again,” Adamson said.

Adding to Adamson’s confidence is the fact that all three countries still being considered to host the 2020 Olympic Games — Japan, Turkey and Spain — have a vested interest in ensuring the sport is kept around. Japan won six wrestling medals, including four golds, at the London Games while Turkey and Spain also each found a spot on the wrestling podium in 2012.

“I think there could be a positive spin being that it’s back in public discussion,” Adamson said. “It has created awareness of how important the sport is not just to North America but worldwide.”

Photo: Supplied

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