FARMINGTON — A big victory for one of the world's oldest sports resulted in a loss for two of the most popular sports.
The International Olympic Committee reinstated wrestling as an Olympic sport just months after announcing its removal in February. Wrestling received 49 votes from IOC delegates on Sunday to earn the final spot in the 2020 and 2024 summer games. Wrestling beat out a combined bid from baseball and softball, which received 24 votes, and squash, which earned 22 votes.
Sunday's announcement was followed by jubilation from wrestling communities across the globe who rallied to make drastic changes to the sport's rules and presentation to appeal more to the Olympic organizers and audience.
"Getting Olympic wrestling reinstated just proves how popular and powerful this sport really is not only in the United States, but worldwide," said Piedra Vista High School's wrestling coach Levi Stout, who was active in the Save Olympic Wrestling campaign. "It was overwhelming to be in the middle of the Save Olympic Wrestling network. I have been flooded with emails and direct messages."
Stout said the wrestling family rallied together over the last seven months to help save the sport.
"Everyone from Dan Gable to Cael Sanderson to our little Four Corners community of supporters, I feel like we all did our part," said the three-time state championship winning coach.
Stout called Sunday's announcement a big victory for wrestling at all levels, especially at the youth level where future Olympians are made.
"It keeps the dream alive. There are a lot of kids that are too small for football or too short for basketball. Those kids become wrestlers," he said. "They are young, but they set goals to one day wrestle in the Olympics."
While wrestling fans celebrated, those hoping for softball's return to the Olympics were left questioning their strategy, especially after wrestling's media blitz left few doubting wrestling would take the bid ahead of softball.
"When the IOC cut wrestling in February, it had the inside track to bring that back ASAP, which they should and I totally agree with," said Piedra Vista softball head coach Kevin Werth, who has won eight consecutive 4A state titles and has been named a National High School Coaches Association National Coach of the Year. "Wrestling should be in the Olympics, but, if wrestling wasn't there, softball would have had a much better shot. I tend to agree that softball should not have been paired up with baseball as a joint bid. Softball should have probably stayed independent."
The IOC eliminated the sport, which has been heavily associated with performance enhancing drugs, in 2005. That vote also eliminated softball, and the two sports have been trying to regain Olympic status ever since.
Werth said Olympic softball has a more important role than baseball when it comes to youth.
"We have to look at it more for females. For young boys, Major League Baseball exists. They have that option that softball girls don't," Werth said. "Most young boys dream to play Major League Baseball, but young girls, their dream is to play in the Olympics for the national team. That has been taken away, and it is sad they can't reinstate it because softball has become a competitive global sport."
Werth thought softball stood its best chance to be reinstated for the 2020 games in Tokyo because Japan won the last gold medal in the event in the 2008 games. With sports such as speed-walking, table tennis, trampoline and badminton still on the Olympic program, Werth said the IOC needs to take a serious look at popular sports like softball.
"The softball community will keep fighting and growing and try to one day make it back to the Olympics," he said. "They talk about softball being a popular television sport on ESPN, but I don't know. I have a bean bag toss game at my house, maybe I will work on that in case they decide to make that an Olympic sport instead of softball."John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.