CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the story first hit the wire, I thought it was a gag.The International Olympic committee is dropping wrestling from the summer games? Yeah, right. I'm sure. LOL. That and the 100-meter sprint.I felt like Bugs Bunny rolling on the ground, laughing at Elmer Fudd. "Stop it Doc, yer killin' me."Then I realized, hey, the IOC really is killing wrestling as an Olympic sport - with an elephant gun.
I also realized, hey, that hurts.I imagine it does for many West Virginians.Sure, football is king in the Mountain State. Hoops comes in second. And West Virginia isn't exactly a hotbed of wrestling excellence like, say, Iowa.But we do like some Olympic rasslin'.We watched Bruce Baumgartner. We watched Dave Schultz, who was later tragically shot by John DuPont. We watched Dan Gable, who went on to build a major-college dynasty at Iowa. We watched Jeff Blatnik come back from Hodgkins lymphoma in 1984.
We watched with awe Russian Aleksandr Karelin in 1988, '92 and '96. Dude was the best ever - until a kid from Wyoming, Rulon Gardner, ended Karelin's career in 2000. Karelin finally gave up an Olympic point, stepped away, bowed to Gardner and retired.And the IOC is pitching that? It decided to keep modern pentathlon instead of wrestling? Dressage is OK, but not wrestling?Wrestling is the contact equivalent of the 100-meter dash. Simplistic. See how fast a guy can run. See which guy is stronger in hand-to-hand battle.No wrestling? As Bugs would say, what ultramaroons! What embezzles!
And, yes, we've had our connections in West Virginia. One of our favorites was Nate Carr, who was an Iowa State great but migrated to Morgantown and helped WVU coach Craig Turnbull.While a Mountaineer coach, Carr made the Olympic team and wrestled in Seoul in 1988.
He won over the Mountain State with his enthusiasm and charisma. While at the Olympic Village, Carr didn't partake in any recreational activities for fear he would lose focus.Then we watched as Carr was robbed. A judge made an obvious scoring error and Carr settled for a bronze medal. But the folks here knew. He was embraced.(Carr, by the way, was defeated by Schultz in the finals of the 1997 U.S. Nationals. That's an extraneous tidbit I'm throwing in for free. Because I like you guys.)In the same Olympics, we also had one of our own wrestle. Ken Chertow, who hailed from Huntington High, starred at Penn State before making the U.S. team as a junior.Chertow didn't earn an Olympic medal, but his journey was certainly one we followed.Wrestling is just one of our deals here. We're certainly not voting it out. Current WVU assistant Greg Jones is one of the most successful college wrestlers of all time. He won three NCAA national titles.
Dean Morrison won a title, and I was in Iowa in 1991 to watch Scott Collins win WVU's first national title. To this day, it remains one of the most thrilling events I've covered.In the finals, Collins, wrestling in the 149-pound weight class, scored a takedown in the final 30 seconds to defeat Iowa's Troy Steiner 8-7 on his home mat.Danny Felix, another current WVU assistant, was an Olympic alternate.So, yes, IOC this bugs me. It hits me right here.And when I say that, I'm tapping my heart.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.