Wrestling for life

Print edition : March 22, 2013
A look at how wrestling has fared in the Olympics in the light of the IOC’s decision to drop the sport from the Games from 2020.

Wrestling is as ancient as the Games itself. In fact, from 708 B.C., it was the decisive discipline in the pentathlon before the Olympics was abolished in A.D. 393.

The sport has been part and parcel of the modern Olympics, right from 1896 at Athens. Only in Paris [1900] was wrestling not part of the Games.

At the end of the 19th century, professional wrestling was quite popular in Europe, but at the turn of the century, it began to lose its sheen. Olympic amateurism gave wrestling a new lease of life as well as a new image.

To make the bouts more exciting and entertaining, the format was tweaked to three, two-minute rounds during the 2000 Sydney Games.

Women entered the wrestling arena in Athens 2004.

THE RECENT PAST

In London 2012, wrestlers from 29 countries finished on the podium.

THE PRESENT

More than 180 countries are involved in the sport, reflecting its global presence.

The TV audience for wrestling is a whopping 23 million.

Despite its undisputed popularity, the International Olympic Committee decides to eliminate wrestling, starting with the 2020 Games.

When an online voting conducted by Huffington Post asked fans which sport should face the axe in the 2016 Rio Olympics, synchronised swimming was a clear winner! Wrestling was not even in the picture.

FASCINATING FACTS

The first Olympic champion was not even a trained wrestler. Germany’s Carl Schumann won three gymnastic titles in the Games before body-locking England’s weightlifting champion Launceston Elliot for the gold.

At the 1912 Stockholm Games, the bout between Finnish wrestler Alfred Johan Asikainen and Russia’s Martin Klein lasted nearly a dozen hours (11h 40m) before the latter prevailed. It remains the longest wrestling match ever.

Egypt’s Ibrahim Mustafa was the first African to win an Olympic wrestling title (Amsterdam, 1928) while Shohachi Ishii of Japan became the first Asian to finish on the podium (Helsinki, 1952).

INDIA’S TRYST

Wrestler K.D. Jadhav brought glory to the country by achieving a podium finish in the 1952 Helsinki Games.

Sushil Kumar did even better, clinching a bronze [Beijing, 2008] and a silver [London, 2012]. He also earned the distinction of being the first Indian to win back-to-back medals in the Olympics [individual section].

Yogeshwar Dutt, too, joined the party when he claimed the bronze in the London Games.

Geeta Phogat made history by becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to appear in the Games [London, 2012]

BOOTED OUT

A few prominent sports which were dropped like hot potatoes after brief appearances at the Olympics: cricket, baseball, croquet, pelota, lacrosse and softball.

Cricket, India’s “unofficial” national sport, figured in only one Olympics [1900] before it was bowled out.

COMING BACK

Rugby sevens and golf are making a comeback in Rio de Janeiro 2016,

THE FUTURE OF WRESTLING

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