In rhythmic gymnastics, young women in leotards bounce across the floor waving colorful banners and other props.
This is considered an Olympic sport.
Synchronized diving, in which two people try to master the feat of jumping off a platform at the same time and then landing in the water at the same time, is also deemed worthy of Olympic recognition. So is synchronized swimming, also known as dancing while not drowning, which can be performed in the solo, duet and eight-member team categories. (Question: In the solo event, with whom does one “synchronize”?)
Olympic medals are also awarded to those who have perfected the combination of shooting a pistol, swimming, running, jumping a horse over a series of fences and of course, fencing. For some reason they call this “the modern pentathlon,” a description that was last true around the time that Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton to narrowly take home the gold.
(A truly modern pentathlon would require contestants to text-message your significant other while driving 80 mph down I-85 at rush hour, drinking a hot cup of coffee and checking your hair in the mirror while singing to the song on the radio. If we could get recognition of THAT modern pentathlon, Atlanta would become the home of champions.)
And then, of course, there is equestrian dressage, a grueling sport in which competitors don top hats and tuxedoes and then ride horses as they prance skittishly through a field, trying not to get their feet muddy. At least that’s what it looks like on television. Olympic medals are awarded in both the individual and team categories of equestrian dressage, with hopes that in future years the categories will be expanded to include synchronized horse swimming.
As of the 2020 Olympics, all of the above will still be sports deemed worthy of Olympic gold. But as of Tuesday, wrestling will not. The International Olympic Committee has decided that the sport is no longer worthy of inclusion in its Games. “This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020.”
It’s a bizarre decision, representing an abandonment of tradition and mission. This is a sport that traces its Olympic pedigree back to the Greek games of 700 B.C., a sport depicted on Egyptian burial murals of 4,500 years ago, and on Sumerian cave drawings from 7,000 years ago. It figures in ancient Greek mythology, in Norse mythology. In the Book of Genesis, God wrestles with Jacob as a test of Jacob’s will.
I should confess here to a bias: I was a high school wrestler. At six feet tall and a burly, powerful (read: very skinny) 132 pounds, I was no more an Olympic-caliber wrestler than I was an Olympic-caliber rhythmic gymnast. But it didn’t matter. Little guys competed against little guys; big guys against big guys, and I loved it. Many years later, I still miss the unique aroma of a mat-covered, sweat-scented wrestling room.
Yes, the sport is primitive, in a way that rhythmic gymnastics and equestrian dressage are not. But it requires no equipment, and there is no athletic and intellectual competition between human beings more basic than a wrestling match. In fact, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, seemed to have wrestling in mind when he wrote the Olympic credo, which says in part:
“… the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
Technically, wrestling officials can reapply for Olympic recognition, but they would have to compete with the likes of roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu, which I’m told is a Chinese martial art with ancient roots all the way back to 1949. Absent some major change, the odds of reinstatement for wrestling are considered dim.
Maybe wrestling officials should propose going old school, with competitors wearing nothing more than a thong and olive oil. That approach has seemed to work wonders for the popularity of beach volleyball.
– Jay Bookman