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Area coaches saddened over decision to scrap Olympic wrestling

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Disbelief, stunned, shocked, saddened.

Those are the words being used by area wrestling coaches to describe their reaction to news that the IOC voted in favor of dropping wrestling from the 2020 Olympic games.

“I can’t imagine how you take the world’s oldest sport, that’s been in the Olympics forever and really kind of started the Olympic spirit way back when, and just get rid of it,” South Jefferson coach Pat Conners said.

“I am stunned, as is most of the wrestling community,” Immaculate Heart coach John Babcock said. “I’m saddened by it.”

Conners said that he doesn’t think the decision will stand. Wrestling will be one of several sports that can be voted back into the 2020 games during the IOC session in September.

He compared the sport’s popularity in countries like Iran and Russia to that of soccer in Europe.

“They won’t go quietly, and I know I wouldn’t want those countries paying me a visit about this,” Conners said.

“A lot of countries are involved with it. In fact it’s one of the most diverse sports as far as countries that get medals,” Babcock said.

When reached on Tuesday afternoon, Conners said that he hadn’t yet had time to read up on the specific reasons, but guessed it had to do with TV ratings and money. If that was the case, he said, that is a “pretty poor reason.”

“That’s not what the Olympic spirit is supposed to be about — money and ratings — it’s about celebrating these athletes that have trained their lives to reach the pinnacle of their sport,” Conners said.

Both coaches talked of the sport’s long-standing tradition as an original Olympic event, both in the modern games and dating back to the ancient Olympics in Greece, saying that added to the shock factor.

Conners believes the decision won’t have any local impact at the high school or college level.

“Most of the kids that I’ve coached, their dream is to have success at the state level in high school, then maybe move on to have a good career in the NCAA,” Conners said.

Wrestling is one of the few Olympic sports that athletes from the area have either competed in or come close.

Jason Gleasman, a 1993 graduate of Adirondack High School who went on to wrestle for Syracuse University, qualified for the 1996 games in Atlanta. He placed 12th overall at 220 pounds in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Mitch Clark, a 1993 graduate of Canton High School, made it to the Olympic Trials in 2000 but did not advance to the games. He was a national champion in high school and at Ohio State University.

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