Nothing I’ve read in the past two weeks has mentioned Rich Bender’s name and his contributions to our successes in Tokyo. There’s no question our athletes did an amazing job. Greco, not so much, but that pretty much follows a trend. More on that later.
As for Rich, he’s America’s CEO when we talk about international wrestling. The buck stops with him in good times, bad times, and as we’ve seen in the last two weeks, in great times.
Mr. Bender’s largest contribution to our recent successes has been his insistence on creating as many RTC’s (Regional Training Centers) as possible. These training sites have been critical to the development of our athletes, continually allowing each of them to train well beyond graduation from college; and in some instances, for up to 3 Olympic cycles.
Where would Dan Gable have landed in the Best of the Best category had we had RTC’s during his time? Remember, Dan retired when he was 23. Back in the 70’s, and certainly before then, America had never heard of RTC’s. That meant most athletes couldn’t afford to keep training beyond college, and if they did, it was only for 1 Olympic cycle.
But unfortunately for the United States, the Soviets always had resources. Every one of their world class athletes, at least 4 deep in each weight had non-related jobs, which allowed them to train year around. They were simply conscripted into the military with their duty stations being the insides of wrestling rooms.
As to Greco, we continually struggle, which is a kind word to use given our performances. As a suggestion, maybe we should think about moving the World and Olympic freestyle trials up by say two months? If we did, that wouldn’t make much of a difference relative to the makeup of our freestyle team. But it would give those athletes some extra time to rest and heal before the battle for world supremacy begins.
As for Rich, as I mentioned, his responsibility as our CEO is to understand the capabilities and limitations of USAWrestling. So, if one division of the company isn’t getting it done, wouldn’t it make sense to consider a possible transfer of resources?
I might be wrong, I was once before, but if we gave some of our best athletes, the ones that didn’t make the freestyle team, the opportunity to slip over to Greco, I wonder what would happen?
How would Vitali Arujau fare? Would Nick Gwiazdowski make the Greco team at heavy? How about J’den Cox, we all know his level of talent. What about Yianni Diakomihalis, Frank Molinaro, or Mark Hall; could they adapt? I don’t know. But it would be fun to see what might happen.
The point I’m trying to make is we should be willing to give our best wrestlers a shot at a making the Pan Ams, Worlds, and Olympics . . . in both disciplines. Right now, everyone has to choose where they want to go and if they choose poorly, they get to sit at home and watch the matches on Flo Wrestling.
The same should be true in the reverse. Greco athletes should have the opportunity to try their hand at freestyle if they want? But the system that’s currently in place stops that from happening. To me, that defines a waste of resources.
When I look at the Greco results from Tokyo, I just can’t believe that Cuba, the size of Long Island with half the population, can capture 2 Gold Medals out of 6 weight classes and win 9 times more matches than the entire American team did.
If you think I’m wrong regarding the capabilities of our Greco athletes, then our failures have to be administrative, or training based. But something’s wrong.
Move Wrestling To the Winter Games
Does it make sense for us to ask the IOC if they might consider dropping wrestling from the Summer Games and move over to the winter ones? Inclement weather isn’t a concern for us given we’re an indoor sport, so that’s not an issue. And if you look at the UWW’s international schedule, 70% of their events, including the World Championships and World Cups occur during the colder months. So, are we actually a summer sport?
But only offer to move on one condition. That the IOC allows us to go back to 10 weight classes per style? Would that be too much to ask? Look at it from the IOC’s perspective. Moving us would release 288 Summer Game slots (16 athletes in each of the sports 18 weight classes) that they desperately need, given they’re already well over 11,000 athletes. By contrast, the Winter Games has less than 3,000 athletes so why wouldn’t they at least consider our proposal? If it’s really a number’s game as they said it was when they moved the sport from 10 weights, to 8, and then to 6 per discipline, why not ask them to look at this as a win-win for everyone?
As for the Games themselves, before I mention some of our individual performers, I have a suggestion for passivity.
First of all, they should change the word passivity to something that a) actually tells the fans what’s going on and b) shames the athletes into wanting to do more. Yes, passivity is a word that means inactivity. But that’s not what’s actually occurring. What we’re seeing is an unwillingness to wrestle. Those three words are pretty easy to understand. Shouldn’t we try and make it clear to everyone who’s watching the matches, exactly what’s happening?
I’m mentioning this now because I’ve had way too many friends this week ask me, what’s this passivity crap, and then a 30 second clock? All that does is guarantee we’re going to see another 30 seconds of nothing happening as the other wrestler shuts down to get the point?
I agree. And I’ll cover the stupidity of the 30 second clock in a second but for now, I do know that the use of the term passivity is way too kind. How about we trade that word as I mentioned for unwillingness to wrestle? It’s just as easy to say; and if something walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, shouldn’t we call it a duck?
Regarding the 30 second clock, how often did we see either person score during that period? Nada; or near nada. So, what’s the point, other than giving the referee the opportunity to earn some money. Read between the lines on the implication there.
Anyway, if you want to stop something from happening, like an unwillingness to wrestle, how about this; the person who is called has to lay on his back with his opponent applying a half nelson, then restart the bout. The top man doesn’t get points for his opponent being on his back, but he can register the fall. If you don’t think that would stop an unwillingness to wrestle, you don’t understand human nature. I know, maybe that’s a little far fetched but again the point is, what’s happening is the opinion of the referees who are trying to qualify to be one of the few who are chosen to call the finals matches. And the way you do that is bend to the will of those political leaders who make such decisions.
Internationally, I’d also like to see the rest period in between the first and second periods eliminated if there’s an unwillingness to wrestle call made before the break. Who wants to sit in their seats and watch 7 minutes of inactivity? So why not shorten it to 6 minutes of boredom instead.
I doubt the fans would bitch about that, who wants to watch more paint dry? And think of the strategic element of eliminating the rest period, and how conditioning would become a more prominent outcome maker? Wouldn’t this encourage the athlete who knows he’s in better shape to push the pace to receive an unwillingness to wrestle call? And in the reverse, the athlete who wants a break between periods, wouldn’t he have a tendency to keep the action flowing? So, what’s the downside?
Basically the rule is saying; if you wrestle harder, we’ll give you a break between periods. If not, then you do so at your own peril.
As For Our Athletes
Dake’s still a champion in every sense of the word. He’s classy and smart, grateful and gracious and there’s not many people I wouldn’t want to wrestle, but Kyle is one of them.
On the lady’s side; what adjective hasn’t been used when we talk about Tamyra Mensah-Stock? The top two seems to be; athletic and authentic; all with an infectious smile. To watch her hold the American flag over her head after she won; how inspiring. Witnessing her genuine love of country brought tears to my eyes.
How about Helen Maroulis; what a bundle of class and talent. To see her lose a bout, without ever giving up an offensive point left me, and I’m sure most of you, with an empty feeling. But that didn’t stop her onward trek, and now she owns a Bronze.
Speaking of her semi-final match, I’d say this even had she won; if no offensive points are scored at all, let the athletes settle the match until someone drops over, or gets the takedown. Wouldn’t that be fun to watch, seeing who had more grit and wanted it more? As it is now, the official determines the outcome in close matches.
Gable Steveson; he has to be the best heavyweight ever, nationally, or internationally. That’s saying a lot given the sport has had quite a few great big men. Mr. Steveson has it all, the speed of Usain Bolt, at least for the first 2 meters; the other 98 doesn’t matter much in wrestling. Plus, he has the power of an NFL lineman and an internal gyroscope of a gymnast.
Speaking about champions, David Taylor continues to impress. He just seems to get better and better each year, consistently rising to the level of his competition. In the finals he demonstrated once again what winning is all about; pushing your opponent’s cardio until he succumbs to your will.
Sarah Hildebrandt . . . she’s at the top of my favorites list in both skill and character. She’s genuine, fun to watch, and a class act. And, I’m predicting, given that she has many more years ahead of her, some of them are going to be golden.
Kyle Snyder, what can one say, the man’s smart, well-spoken and upmarket. As to his second place finish, it’s always easy to be disappointed when someone comes home with a Silver. But second place isn’t that bad when there are over 7 billion people on the planet who’s can’t measure up to his accomplishments. And it happened against the best pound for pound wrestler in the world?
Technically, if there was one thing that stood out for me in Tokyo, it was this. Those who got takedowns, kept their heads up. Those who got turned, had their heads down. Just like knowing the importance of spinning. Basics win the day.
Overall, it was a great extended week for America. We could always do better, but if we did, what would there be to look forward to the next time?
When will the IOC decide which sports make the 2028 Olympic cut? Has the decision already been made?
The talk about “passivity” does not install confidence the sport of wrestling will be part of many more Olympics.
Is it allowable to let a guy go like Steveson did?
Is it correct to stop the match and put both up?
Yes to both questions.
I agree on 2 topics, (1)moving Wrestling to the Winter Games and (2) splitting up the qualifying for Greco and Freestyle. I would add that the wresters that were aggressive and forced the action usually won the matches. A takedown should be 3 points, there aren’t that many a this level. I liked the 3 round format, why was this dropped? I never thought I would like women wrestling, but I will support this in hopes of increasing participation in our sport. The RTC concept seems to be working, based on our success at the Olympics. Thanks for your opinions Wade, I really enjoy reading some different ideas.
Thank you Wade.