It didn’t take long for bad news to travel quickly after the International Olympic Committee voted to drop wrestling for the 2016 Olympics.
Seven months since that shocking decision to cut out one of the pillars of the world event, the IOC decided last month to reinstate wrestling in 2020 in Tokyo. Wrestling won a majority of the votes with 49, but baseball, softball and squash were left out.
“It felt pretty good to see the decision reversed,” said ex-Greenwave state wrestling champ Riley Orozco. “The Olympics is the highest platform that every wrestler dreams of competing at. With that being said, wrestling still has a ways to go to make it more fan friendly for the everyday fan.”
Orozco, who went on to star at Cal State Bakersfield for four seasons and won a Pac-10 title during his junior year, was stunned when he heard the news earlier this year that wrestling was going to be removed. It didn’t make sense to drop a sport that’s been around since ancient times when Greeks and Romans would battle to please the gods.
“It was frustrating in the sense that wrestling is in everyone’s blood,” said Orozco, who is now an assistant coach at Bakersfield. “How many times have you seen little kids wrestle with each other soon after they begin walking or wrestle with their dads? Dogs and cats wrestle. Wrestling is a lot more common than people think.”
But living in the past could have hurt the ancient sport, making the IOC initially drop it for the 2016 games in Rio de Janerio.
Orozco feels the outcry to the IOC’s decision, though, helped the sport regain its popularity. It’s important to keep it alive at the world’s highest levels and give wrestlers a chance to dream about competing in the Olympics.
“I believe that wrestling is heading in the right direction,” he said. “I do, however, encourage fans to get out and support wrestling anyway they can, whether it is showing up to watch competition, or follow online on Facebook or Twitter.”
The international governing body (FILA) had to make significant changes since the decision was made in February.
FILA elected a new president and hired more women and changed some of the rules to make it more exciting to watch. Women and athletes have a stronger role in decision making, two weight classes were added for women and adopted rule changes will make the sport easier to understand and more exciting to watch.
FILA president Nenad Lalovic told The Associated Press that tricks borrowed from mixed martial arts (MMA) will be added before 2016. It was suggested that wrestling needed to add more flavor in order to attract viewers during the Olympics with possibilities ranging from changing the mat color to adding music and wrestler introductions.
“We are aware of our mistakes and they will not happen again,” Lalovic told AP. “This crisis gave us the strength to change and we finally found out that we can change. This was the most valuable experience of all of this journey.”
Wrestling, though, is safe for only 2020 and 2024 because it’s not one of the 25 core sports. But it will give FILA extra time to make wrestling one of the top-viewed sports in the world during those two Olympic events.
“We have to understand that in four years we will have to compete again to become a core sport,” Lalovic said. “So we can’t stop now. What we have to do in four years is more difficult, maybe.”