It’s only fair that I come out of retirement for this particular blog to congratulate USAWrestling and their staff for a wonderful championship performance. World Champions!
It was great fun getting to watch all the amazing competition and the various storylines unfold. To all who gave of themselves to make this happen . . . well done!
Moving forward, as most of you know, I’ve been on Rich’s case for decades now, pointing out how his anemic understanding of how to win has produced even more anemic results. Yes, the gentleman has increased the amount of capital contributions to USAW which no doubt helps programming but there’s more to winning than just revenue production. He’s also amazing at maintaining his power base while navigating the very difficult waters of huge egos. And he’s obviously respected by his counterparts at the other 39 National Governing Bodies. But if we look at the organizations primary goal of dominating in international competition, his understanding of what that means continually falls woefully short.
So you know where I’m coming from, if you subtract the successes and titles of Burroughs and Snyder who would win even if they grew up in Sierra Leone, we have only had two World Champions (men’s freestyle) and three World Champions (men’s Greco) since Rich became the Executive Director almost two decades ago. So we garnished 5 out of 188 Gold Medals that have been awarded during his tenure.
But we won the team title this time around, so what’s changed?
Four things come to mind.
The first is the mentality of our freestylers who represent us in world competition. In the past there’s been little confidence radiating from our athletes or for that matter much buzz from the wrestling community about our chances internationally. This has to do with a shortage of hopefulness that must first emanate from those who oversee our programs.
As a parallel, when Gable coached, he had amazing teams but not always the best athletes. What made the black and gold so feared, and dominant, was an unbeatable mentally that was Dan Gable. He had a specialness about him that drove everyone who came in contact to believe in themselves and as a result wrestle in many instances above their capabilities. The Hawks weren’t always the best, but they were the ones that won. Gabe had the same effect on his teammates who accompanied him to Munich in ’72.
Our international teams since the current leadership came to power has never seemed to believe in themselves, and the Greco program still has that problem. It’s not that they’re inferior athletes, or don’t train as hard as the competition, or are as bad as their performances seem to suggest . . . it has everything to do with a lack of internal belief, not what they say when they’re in public but what they think when they’re alone.
It’s similar to your big brother always thumping you when you were young. Then years later when you finally grew up and were quite possibly the better of the two, you still struggle to win because that’s what you grew accustomed to expecting; being second best. Or the baby elephant that had his leg tethered to a post for so long that when he finally grew up and could pull it out of the ground he didn’t; because he knew from experience that he couldn’t.
This is why we’ve struggled for so long, it has everything to with expectations; there’s no one in Colorado Springs that has been able to make believers out of our Greco guys or the freestylers for that matter; and there still isn’t.
Fortunately for America, we now have a second coming of Gable in Snyder and Burroughs just like we had in Bruce, Curt, Kendall and Tom in Atlanta. Those were wrestlers who believed in themselves beyond anything our administering leaders could muster and their belief was so polarizing that they lifted every boat in our harbor because they became the tide. Sanderson is doing the same thing at Penn State as Gable did in Iowa and the Lions are reigning supreme.
And even though Dake, Taylor and Stieber weren’t in the line-up in Paris, America now has about 10 wrestlers who know they’re going to medal and about 5 of them are certain they’re going to win Gold. It’s all about perception and expectations; something America now has in spite of Colorado Springs, not because of it.
And I’d be remiss here not to mention Helen on the women’s side. She comes from the same egg as the men I mentioned above. Hopefully her poise and self-assurance will become contagious within the women’s program but I’m afraid she can’t do it alone just as Burrough’s couldn’t before the arrival of Kyle.
I really spent a lot of time analyzing what’s happening in Colorado Springs before putting any of this to paper. And I would love to be able to write wonderful things about their efforts but they seem to be like Congress, more interested in doing less than more. Sure you catch arrows for doing less, but there is far more danger in doing more. Less probably upsets about 25% of our community but it maintains jobs; doing more moves the needle above 50% and puts the decision makers at risk.
Fortunately for us, and USAWrestling, the end of the rainbow is the addition of 2 new weight classes that on all accounts puts Taylor and Dake in the line-up. I’m sure some other wrestlers will have something to say about that but regardless, we’ll have at least one if not two more wrestlers joining the team who know they’re going to win because that’s the way they train, the way they act and the way they believe. And maybe the two of them will win it all, maybe they won’t, but if they don’t, it won’t be due to a lack of confidence.
The second has to do with what I suspect the IOC knew about but was afraid to act on; the unforgiveable, inexcusable, indefensible and reprehensible use of the performance enhancing drugs by the Soviet Union, now Russia. Although everything hit the fan just prior to Rio, I’m of the mindset that Russia’s pharmaceutical capabilities have either been one step ahead of those who were responsible to monitor such things or it is possible that the IOC knew and were deathly afraid of the explosion that would occur if they exposed the offenders.
If it’s the latter you might wonder; how could something like that happen?
Well, remember the East German gymnasts in the 70’s and the IOC’s Salt Lake City Olympic allegations of bribery scandal? And all the questions that have arisen over the decades regarding hidden accounts and influence peddling that are attached to enough of the IOC leadership to make any logical thinker shake his head. Should I mention the recent arrest of the Head of the Rio Olympics for corruption, money laundering and participating in a criminal operation that has the IOC in the middle of yet another embarrassing fall from grace? And this new Olympic setback is bound to make the one in Salt Lake look like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade by comparison.
So could it be fair to assume, or say, that the Soviets have been doping for decades? I think that’s more of a “daaa” than a “that can’t be”! Personally I don’t doubt it for a second because I wrestled my share of those athletes just as I competed against some of the strongest wrestlers in American history; and in every instance there was no comparison; the Soviets were bears and sub-human when it came to power.
And if I’m as correct as I think I am, it makes me sad and then furious to think how many of our greatest wrestlers never won a Gold medal, or any medal for that matter due to the competition doping?
I wonder if or maybe a better question would be how long has the IOC known about the Russian’s use of performance enhancing drugs. They couldn’t possibly have had their heads in the sand for decades. But due to the Olympic Committee’s history, what could they do given their own personal past of under the table inducements, pay-outs and voting irregularities; for it’s really hard to point a finger at someone else when in the same hand they have three other fingers pointing back there way.
Now this is pure conjecture on my part but if I were to guess, I’d say that the IOC, given their history, told the Russians before Paris (and possibly the Iranians too) if anyone of their athletes gets flagged for drug use moving forward, there’s going to be hell to pay. That might be why three Russian World Champions and three Iranian World Medalists didn’t compete in France which was certainly a head scratcher. Had they attended, it would have more than likely changed the team scores. But given their absence, without a better athlete through chemistry advantage, they were forced to outwrestle us; and they couldn’t. That’s why I believe, along with the exceptional quality and the newly developed elevated expectations of our athletes; there’s a new sheriff in town.
The third is . . . USAW spends zero dollars marketing or promoting the sport outside of their own organization. Sure they support their programs and athletes through their publications and fund raisers but do little to grow the sport outside of the sport.
To me, USAWrestling is like a fleet of fishing vessels that are catching as many fish as they can without regard to how it might hurt the sustainability of the oceans bounty. Why doesn’t USAWrestling feel they have an obligation to give back, to help the sport grow beyond its small and narrow confines?
For those who think I may be off base here, may I remind them that USA Today didn’t print one sentence, or one word about our world team title and yet in last Friday’s paper they ran a huge story about USA Soccer losing to a country of 173 people. Okay, you caught me, Trinidad and Tobago is larger than 173 people but I’m trying to make a point here; that wrestling is less important to those outside of our family than a second tier sport who lost to a country that has less people in it than the state of Delaware. Why didn’t USAW take out a full page ad or at least a half page in the paper to congratulate themselves and our athletes; no to mention alert people outside of the sport that we’re alive and well, doing great and worthy of their attention? Colorado Springs has the money, why aren’t they trying to keep our fisheries healthy instead of just pillaging the stock?
And the fourth is the development of Regional Training Centers which are a tremendous boost to our international efforts but unquestionably hurtful when it comes to collegiate programming. Again, they’re willing to take because the RTC’s provides immeasurable benefits without a cost to them but at a huge price to the health of folkstyle.
As some of you might remember, I’ve written about this before so I won’t bother you by repeating myself. But for those who didn’t read my opinions about the RTC’s, please refer to a previous blog over on the right entitled; Regional Training Center . . . A Cause For Concern.
But regardless of my opinions on these or any subject I cover, I’m always in awe of our athletes and fully supportive of their futures. Go USA.
Earlier this Spring wrestling formed a Blue Ribbon task force for the purpose of examining who we are, what we’re doing and how can we improve the sport’s long-term health. Each of the four conclusions they came to and voted unanimously to approve came from my previous blogs. So it might be fair to say that I might have had a much larger impact on the wrestling community that I originally thought.
To my detractors, relax. I’m not trying to take credit for what’s happening but with well over a million of you reading my words in the last year; it has to be more than a coincidence given that all four recommendations, complete with why they’re critical to the sports health can be found over on the right.
They are . . . 1) Wrestling will become a one semester sport, with competition starting during the Christmas break and end in late April with 2) An “official” dual meet championship. Then 3) The individual tournament would be moved to later in March and away from March Madness and 4) Is the realization and total support of the notion that our sport has to return to its dual meet roots and away from all day events.
The only problem I have with any of these recommendations are 1) They’re only being recommended for Division I programming and 2) There’s not a firm date set for any of these changes to be implemented.
But I’m optimistic here because every member of the task force is well known and respected within the leadership of the NCAA. So here’s to crossed fingers.