Last Words on Rio

Should the IOC Keep Wrestling in the Olympics

Of course they should, but will they? After you read this you decide.

But to start, I’d like to take my hat off to Martin Floreani and FloWrestling. They’re the only media outlet we have that has the nerve to do investigative pieces in areas that wrestling would prefer to keep hidden. It’s actually refreshing because they don’t hesitate to point out that the King has no cloths on those occasions when he forgets to put them on.

Without Martin’s team of journalists and video professionals wrestling would be far less than it is today. In many ways he’s like Bob Ferraro, the father of the National High School Coaches Association. They both march to their own drummer, are extremely successful in what they do and each does it their way regardless of what others think or who’s toes gets stepped on.

Flo always reminds me how much the sport is an enigma of contradictions. Wrestlers wouldn’t think twice about jumping in a ring with a grizzly bear but at the same time they’re as thin skinned as earthworms. When anyone is critical of some aspect of the sport or those in leadership they immediately circle the wagons and collectively attack the accuser; regardless if the information being shared is valid or not. This is the largest challenge wrestling has because great changes always follow noticeable failures.

If WIN, Amateur Wrestling News or any other member of wrestling’s communication family reported on the issues that Flo tackles we’d be a much stronger sport. Martin understands better than anyone that openness and controversies create desirable outcomes and why his company is worth more than all our other media outlets combined.

An example of this was the breaking story of the massive corruption which took place in Rio with the officiating. This story was broken first by Flo writer Christian Pyles who reported on this injustice after the very first matches were wrestled in Rio. (http://www.flowrestling.org/article/46587-how-uww-s-chief-referee-rigged-the-olympic-games) As a consequence, many officials were sent home. But, what about those wrestlers who’s Olympic games were over as a result? To paraphrase one fan’s reactionary tweet, “what are we supposed to say, thank for training for 4 years, coming here to wrestle, and if you want to try again, there’s always Tokyo.”

Never before has our international leadership been so brazen in the way they exercise their power. I’d like to think their actions were honest missteps but it appears that the UWW is still FILA by any other name.

When a group of men knowingly cheat athletes it’s beyond disgraceful and the equivalent of breaking the most sacred of commandments in sports. It goes beyond shameful and I doubt very much if any member of the UWW can say, “I didn’t know what was going on.” Actually each one has to be complicit at some level because anyone who is clever enough to make their board couldn’t possibly have watched the competition without noticing the blatant chicanery. And now, for their organization to collectively stick their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong is the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of the IOC bull.

And for all of you who care about the future of wrestling, especially with us remaining a core sport in the Olympics, you need to go to Flo and read the story. And when you do, you’ll be shaking your head before the end of the first paragraph.

Maybe this isn’t as serious as I’m making it sound but wouldn’t you agree that both knowingly and systematically cheating athletes is the kind of action, and now inaction that could very well affect our Olympic status? What message does this send the IOC who has had their own issues with scandals and corruption?

Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we were shown the door for our various sins; none of which had anything to do with the sport itself. But it did reflect directly on our leadership’s inattentiveness to repeated requests by the IOC to operate more professionally and end the corruption.

What still amazes me is it was only after we got the boot that FILA reigned in their self importance and dropped to their knees promising change; finally realizing the IOC was serious.

Here’s what was expected:

  • A change in leadership.
  • Being more responsive to IOC requests.
  • End the corruption.
  • Work to create more excitement and spectator friendliness.

So let’s take a look at what they did in the last three years to turn things around. They changed their name because the old one had lost its luster. They redesigned the attire that referees wear and then made a few tweaks to each countries singlet.

But after enduring that exhaustive work they seemed to have stopped.

As to the IOC’s expectation for change in leadership, President Martinetti resigned under protest but was allowed to stay on as a member of the board which remained in tack. Only later when the IOC cleared their throat over promises not being kept did FILA finally force Martinetti out. But other than that, the faces of leadership remained the same; so essentially there was no change – again thumbing their nose at the IOC.

As to ending the corruption, given what we witnessed in Rio the only change they made was to shine a bright light on what they were doing. I guess you’d call that a change.

As to excitement and being spectator friendly, the UWW decided the best way to accomplish this was to double the number of points for a takedown. From that they did chest bumps proclaiming, “Look at what we accomplished! The average number of points scored per bout has doubled in the last three years.”

Really . . . of course there’s more scoring. If you double the number of points for a takedown and have the same number of takedowns, the point totals have to double. Maybe I’m wrong but isn’t that 3rd grade, 2nd month math?

Now following Rio the UWW has decided that par terre will no longer be forced on athletes in Greco matches. That means more defensive posturing and less attacks from standing. I’m confused, is that the direction the sport should head. What could they be thinking when a majority of all the points scored in Greco come from the down position?

All this reminds me of what Pelle Svensson, a two-time World Champion and 17 year member of the UWW Board said about them as he resigned in disgust. They are nothing more than “an inherently corrupt organization.”

And although I don’t agree with the street theater we saw from the Mongolian coaches in Rio, their protest was a direct result of the corrupt officiating. So one might be swayed to say that the UWW is partially responsible for the black eye we received here as a result of the coach’s actions.

I’m worried that so little has happened relative to the UWW’s assurances to reform that bad things are about to befall us. It’s still business as usual for them; political favors and financial inducements flowing upstream while the sport heads downstream and over the dam.

As to the question I posed at the top of the page; IOC President Thomas Bach has promised to fight all corruption, wherever he finds it with zero tolerance. So I’d have to believe he’s going to take a close look at wrestling and be compelled to act.

Now I get it for those who want to defend our sport that the IOC isn’t without sin; or willing to hold themselves to the same standards as they will judge us by. Yes, they had their issues in 2002 with the Salt Lake City Olympics followed by an ongoing string of allegations regarding bidding and voting irregularities. None of that is shocking but we should be very concerned about it because there’s a difference in the microscope settings when a mother judges herself versus one of her siblings; especially an insignificant one like wrestling when zero tolerance is promised. This is a “you or mother” scenario and I’d put money on the IOC deciding that it’s better to clean our house than to shine a negative light on theirs.

To help the IOC with a decision like this, there are several other sports who have been patiently waiting in the wings to become the next member of the Olympic family. And what do you think each of them is saying to every IOC board member they encounter?

”Why are you keeping wrestling? They’ve embarrassed themselves and you once again while cheating their own athletes. I would imagine that Pierre de Coubertin is turning over in his grave right about now. Do you really need the media taking a closer look at your group over wrestling’s transgressions? You have enough problems as it is and they’re continuously demonstrating that they can’t be trusted. Give us a chance, dump wrestling; we’ll bring honor, excitement and twice the number of spectators to your events.” 

And if USAWrestling doesn’t force the UWW to jump on these transgressions with both feet, what message does that send, especially to our athletes here at home; that it’s okay to devote an entire career to that one moment in time when one is inches away from an Olympic medal to instead end up with a ticket home as a consolation prize. All because someone with a whistle got his palm greased.

Here are a few interesting posts on Flo’s website about the corruption in Rio;

“It’s time for entire cleansing of the wrestling world from the bottom to the top!!! To include our very own….”

“Where were the American officials at when this went down?”

“It’s time to get an official statement from UWW on what they have to say about the allegations and how they plan to respond to them.”

“So I guess the Mongolians were onto something.”

“Our country’s great sense of fairness make us gasp in disbelief at the blatant corruption possibilities that play themselves out on the wrestling mat.”

“Sadly this is the kind of stuff that gives the IOC ammo to throw wrestling out of the Olympics…”

“So if this is true they should pull the $50,000 fine they issued to Mongolian team for there protest on the mat seems unfair to fine a team when the officials were cheating.”

“And the decline of my beloved sport continues.”

Adeline and Jordan in Rio . . .  

I’m not aware of what happened to Adeline on the women’s side of things but in talking with people who know Jordan, it seems the consensus is there were way too many distractions. Only JB knows for sure, and maybe he’s not completely aware of how each one added to the letdown but I believe we can agree that Rio wasn’t his best performance.

Actually it was painful to watch . . . to see such a great athlete and spokesman for the sport trying to regain his composure after the first loss and then again after his second. I can’t imagine what was going through his mind. But even if he’s one Gold Medal short of what he prepared for, he’s still our champion.

So what were the distractions? Before we talk about that we need to remember that JB is no longer the same person who won the worlds in 2011 or the Olympics in 2012. There has been a few changes in his life. To begin he married his sweetheart in 2013 and has become the father of two lovely children with all the associated responsibilities while trying to maintain the moniker of being the most popular wrestler in the world.

Besides those things what appeared to have sidetracked him the most is the media. They were so enamored by his intelligence and pleasant demeanor that they pulled him in every direction possible except the one that pointed to the winners circle.

If there was a fifth distraction it was the half million dollar Gold Medal incentive package he was offered. The pressure to win in Rio meant that if he was successful the Burroughs family would become financially comfortable for quite a few years to come.

And finally there was the stress that comes from knowing that your fans are expecting not only the Gold but to win each match by even larger margins than before.

I have to believe that Adeline had similar issues, especially with the media and the pressure that’s associated with being America’s flag bearer for the women’s program.

Combined, each one of these time consuming entanglements moved both Jordan’s and Adeline’s psyches away from the envious position of being the hunter to the exposed position of being the hunted.

When I watched Adeline’s first match it certainly appeared she was just trying to get through it against a women she had defeated 9 times before. The match was simply a matter of her under performing by keeping the bout closer than she was capable of and ended up on the losing end of a last second 2-pointer.

This shocked me because every match I’ve ever watched her wrestle she’s never been that conservative. I place the responsibility for that on the coaching staff. She just wasn’t ready to shake hands, kick fanny and take names.

For those who might take exception to that comment about the coaches, I’ll give you that it’s ultimately the athlete who’s responsible for their own success but keeping them focused and away from the pitfalls of distractions is the coach’s job. It couldn’t have been that Adeline wasn’t physically ready to wrestle or wasn’t emotionally capable of winning her fourth world title so through the process of elimination the easy conclusion is that the coaches simply did not step up to help her with the outside distractions.

In the case of Jordan who was 2-0 against his Russian opponent and beat Abdurakhmonov 9-3 just a month before the Games, I wonder if anyone grabbed him after his first loss and said; “Do you know what’s worse than going home and having to explain to everyone how you lost?” Then after a pause follow that with, “Going home and having to explain to everyone how you lost twice.” As much as we might not believe it, our Olympians are still young adults with quite a bit more to learn. It’s our senior level leadership who should be the ones to provide it. Something they clearly failed to do.

Writing this portion of the blog reminds me of watching Gable wrestle his last collegiate match against Larry Owings. It was probably the most shocking loss I’ve ever witnessed in sports. This defeat had nothing to do with physical preparedness but had everything to do with the number of distractions Dan endured before the match.

Every media outlet imaginable wanted time with our Golden Boy, even the ones that never covered wrestling before because he was that big, his accomplishments were that well known. Never beaten in high school and undefeated throughout his collegiate career the media just couldn’t get enough of Dan. And from what I’ve heard over the years, Coach Nichols blamed himself for not doing more to protect his star from the distractions. He was probably right because the media and all that surrounds them are, by definition, the things that pull a person away from their goals.

Don’t get me wrong, Owings’ was very good but not Dan Gable good. So whatever those things were that pulled Dan away from doing his best caused the greatest wrestler America has ever produced to under produce.

As to Rio, had Dan been the coach I doubt very much if Adeline or Jordan would have lost. For coaching is imparting the wisdom gained from what typically is 40+ years of competing, coaching and life experiences to those who have less than 20 years of competitive experience; regardless of how successful the athletes are.

Dan never forgot the lesson he endured in 1970; how expectations and distractions reduced his level of performance. He took those lessons to form the basis of who he became as a coach. I can’t remember a time when a Hawk wrestled below his capabilities; can you? That had everything to do with Dan continuously controlling his athlete’s access to external disturbances and a major reason why they won so often.

And when the time comes that Jordon and Adeline retires from competition, I’m sure they’ll both remember how dangerous an overabundance of distractions were and like Gable, become exceptional coaches.

So What’s A Person To Do . . .

Have you ever wondered what you could do as a member of USAWrestling if you wanted to express your concern (or displeasure) at our performance in Rio? Or for USAWrestling closing their eyes to the corruption within the UWW without exposing yourself to reprisals; or hurting the organization?

If you have, then maybe this might appeal to you?

Given that nothing significant happens at USAWrestling from September through November why not delay the purchase of your membership card until December? This action won’t hurt the organizations bottom line, but it is a way to express your concerns regarding our senior level programming and how they’re allowing the UWW to bury our beloved sport with the IOC.

This form of organized revenue disruption is temporary but it definitely sends a very strong message to USAWrestling’s Board of Directors and their half dozen or so senior level contributors. It tells them they have your support should they wish to force change.

This is the only way I can think of where everyday individuals like you and I can make a difference without actually hurting the organization or our access to their programming.

Thought for the day . . . things that matter the most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.

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4 thoughts on “Last Words on Rio

  1. I agree with Dale. WE have to really support our sport and get out there and show all of its positive aspects. For years I have been trying to do this as well as encourage participation in the sport even into adulthood. I get so frustrated with all of this at times, especially all of the poor excuses concerning the promotiuon of our sport in a good and holsemen manner.

    • Guys . . . appreciate all the support. Really. But it’s not supporting the sport that’s going to make any headway although it is a wonderful thought. The issue is our restaurant has poor food and we keep on repainting the walls, adding linen table cloths and valet parking. None of that is going to bring people to your establishment if you haven’t fixed the quality of the food issues. Wrestling has to become more exciting (tasty) and more exciting is forcing more action to occur. NOT more scoring, more action. Granted, more scoring typically means more action but not the reverse. It’s action we need. Then support it but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you’re behind the sport and get others to be there too that all is going to end well.

  2. Another thought provoking article from Wade. I agree that unless wrestling is willing to face up to it’s short comings the sport will be on the chopping block in the future.

    • I hope we can stop our sport from getting to that point of have to experience the “chopping block!”. Sometimes, I wonder if our sport is loosing its appeal because of all of the sacrifice, hard work and discipline it demands. We, our American Society, has become so very weak or lazy or indeferent and it shows not only in many aspects of opur society and the way we live but also in our athletecs.

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