Former Janesville coach pleased with wrestling decision
Special to the Gazette
MADISON--The International Olympic Committee's decision Sunday to retain wrestling as a sport was greeted with relief and jubilation by enthusiasts who saw their sport nearly counted out for the 2020 Olympics.
“I'm just ecstatic, it would have been a travesty if it had been eliminated,” said Joe Kaster, a former Janesville Craig High School wrestling coach, who now edits “The Cross Face” wrestling magazine.
Like others, Kaster initially didn't think wrestling would remain an Olympic sport after the IOC's Executive Committee voted in February to remove Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games.
However, FILA, the Switzerland-based International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, changed leadership, enacted new rules and expanded women's participation, no doubt saving it as an Olympic sport, Kaster said.
“It's like being a kid who gets sent to their room to get their act together. FILA probably deserved it, and in a twisted way, nearly getting bounced from the Olympics did wrestling a great favor,” Kaster said.
Change started at the top. The “good ol' boys”—those not interested in new ideas—were removed, a progressive president installed and, as a result, the sport has become more exciting to watch and participate in, according to Kaster.
“I've spent a lifetime in wrestling and I'll admit that watching the Greco-Roman matches were awful,” he said.
The former coach also said matches had become shoving contests where takedowns were deemphasized by rules that awarded points for pushing an opponent out of bounds. Those rules were rewritten.
“It's already filtering down to the U.S. and Wisconsin level,” Kaster said. “The summer junior national tournaments, with the new rules, have more action, the kids like it and the matches are just better to watch.”
National wrestling associations report attendance and the number of spectators increased at tournaments this summer as organizations rallied their fan bases to the threat of Olympic extinction.
While Olympic freestyle and Greco-Roman is different than the folkstyle wrestling at U.S. high school and college levels, Olympic wrestling has a major impact on the sport right down to those levels.
The Olympics give wrestling a visibility few other events can, and Olympians give the sport additional status and provide goals young wrestlers aspire to achieve, Kaster said.
Wisconsin has contributed a number of medal-winning Olympic Greco-Roman wrestlers, with Kaster naming Jim Provisor, of Stevens Point; Dennis Hall, of Hartford; and Garrett Lowney, of Oshkosh.
Being an Olympic sport also is important to collegiate wrestling, as some schools may have dropped their programs if wrestling didn't remain in the Olympics. Fewer colleges fielding college wrestling teams would likely have devalued the sport for some high school athletic administrators, too, Kaster said.
Calls to Janesvilles' Parker and Craig High School athletic departments for comment on the IOC's impact on wrestling weren't returned by deadline.
One of the oldest Olympic sports, wrestling received a wake up call when it was put on the IOC's short list of sports slated for elimination this spring. But, according to Kaster, now the sport appears to be better positioned to succeed.