Rally cry: Kaster believes Olympic wrestling will return
MADISON Olympic wrestling appeared down for the count in February when the International Olympic Committee put it on a list of endangered sports, but it may be getting up off the mat, according to Janesville wrestling icon Joe Kaster.
Kaster was Janesville Craig High School's wrestling coach for 20 years ending in 1989 and has since reported on wrestling in the state in his magazine, "The Crossface."
Kaster said he was shocked when the IOC voted to drop one of its original core sports of the summer games for the 2020 Olympics. However, he now feels that wrestling could come out a winner when the IOC votes in September to reinstate one of three sportsówrestling, squash or a combined bid for baseball and softball.
"To be honest, I'm a little surprised that things are looking as good as they are now," Kaster said. "Once they drop something, they just don't change. I wasn't optimistic about wrestling's chances at first but now I think it could survive."
Olympic wrestling has problems drawing a television audience and airing it late at night kept its profile low with the viewers, said Kaster. Also, unlike basketball and other sports, the general public doesn't understand how points are scored in wrestling.
However, Kaster blames much of wrestling's woes on FILA, the Switzerland-based International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, whose management needed to go.
This year FILA's chief executive resigned and the new leadership group "seems to be getting things straightened out," Kaster said.
"No one feels bad (FILA) was rearranged. They changed some rules in free-style and Greco-Roman (wrestling) and cleaned up their act," Kaster said.
FILA increased the value of takedowns and turns to emphasize offense, and some criteria elements were eliminated that made wrestling difficult for spectators to understand.
Also, efforts to include more women in the sport help it with gender equity issues.
While Olympic wrestling has styles Americans don't see at the high school and collegiate levels, retaining it as an Olympic sport is vital to its future in the U.S., Kaster said.
Wrestling's Olympic status is important to the National Collegiate Association of Athletes and if wrestling were dropped from the Olympics, Kaster said it would be easier for the colleges to drop wrestling, too.
The impact would follow to high-school wrestling as well decreasing its popularity, he said.
"The Olympics are the Olympics. While a kid may dream of being a NCAA champ, the Olympic gold medal is still the ultimate goal," said Kaster.
Sponsors of those competing internationally between Olympic years may lose interest in paying for training and travel expenses.
The Wisconsin Assembly joined several other states in approving a resolution Wednesday to save Olympic wrestling. While Kaster acknowledges that legislators pass resolutions, he doubts any would impact the IOC's decision-makers.
"I think it's nice they do it, I just don't think it will have any effect at all. Really, who is going to vote against it?" he said.
If anything, the Olympic action has brought the sport's sometimes warring factions together, said Gary Abbott, spokesman for USA Wrestling.
"It's a worldwide sport, with 177 wrestling federations involved, millions of athletes and activity in every continent," Abbott said in an email response. "But what will make the difference for wrestling in the Olympics are the positive changes it is now making to help wrestling progress with the times, with more exciting rules, expanded inclusion for women and athletes in its governance and a vision of growth moving forward.
"When you add all of that up, wrestling presents a powerful case."
Kaster agreed there is nothing like a common enemy to unify people.
"I've never seen wrestling people in this country and worldwide join together like they had on this," he said. "We've got to get back into the Olympics. To hell with all this other bickering."