December 5, 2013

Mainers wrestle with Olympic ruling

They fear the vote to drop wrestling from the 2020 Games will reduce young wrestlers' exposure to the sport and leave them without a goal.

By Mike Lowe
Staff Writer

SANFORD - Back and forth, back and forth.

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Marshwood Coach Matt Rix walks with wrestler Tyler Everett at the Class A state championship Saturday. Rix said of Olympic wrestling: “One of the things that we’ve always promoted was if you want to put the time in, wrestling will take you as far as you want to go.”

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Al Kirk, head wrestling coach at Deering High for 35 years: “I don’t know what they’re thinking. It is not a politically sound move for them to do this. It’s the oldest sport, dating back to the Romans and Greeks. Almost all the countries around the world have it.”

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Like a caged lion, Andrew Pineo paced the end line of Memorial Gym. A senior wrestler from Skowhegan High, he started pacing about 30 minutes before his 195-pound semifinal match against Cony's Nic Benner, a match Pineo would win 8-0.

His concentration, his determination, were evident from the moment he slipped out of his sweats.

"This is my passion," he said of wrestling. "This is what I love."

And he feels like he's been slammed to the mat.

The 15-member executive board of the International Olympic Committee recommended in a secret ballot last Tuesday that wrestling be dropped from the Olympics beginning in 2020. It has not released the vote nor the reasons for the decision.

While the final decision won't be made until September, it is unlikely to change. And that, said Pineo and just about everyone else at the packed Class A wrestling championships here Saturday, is a mistake.

"I would tell them that they've taken away something big from little kids," said Pineo when asked what he would tell the IOC. "They've taken away a passion, something that someone has worked for their entire life, and that's not right."


Wrestling, to many in Maine, is synonymous with the Olympic Games. It dates back to the ancient Greeks, and was one of the sports in the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896.

Last summer, 344 athletes from 28 nations competed in wrestling in the London Olympics.

"I don't know what they're thinking," said Al Kirk, head wrestling coach at Deering High in Portland for 35 years. "It is not a politically sound move for them to do this. It's the oldest sport, dating back to the Romans and Greeks. Almost all the countries around the world have it."

Few believe the decision will affect high school wrestling, which, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, is the sixth-most popular high school sport among boys (272,149 participants). More than 8,200 girls now compete across the nation.

In the U.S., high school and college wrestlers compete in a style known as folkstyle, which is different from the freestyle and Greco-Roman styles used in the Olympics. There is more of an emphasis on wrestling on your feet in freestyle and Greco-Roman, and the scoring for takedowns is a bit different.

But the techniques for takedowns are easily transferable from folkstyle to the others.

The biggest impact will be on the exposure young wrestlers get to the sport. Olympic wrestling provided the ultimate competition for its participants. It is the only time the sport receives any television exposure.

Tyler Davidson of Marshwood won the state title at 120 pounds Saturday, to become only the 16th wrestler to win four Maine state titles. He will attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., next year. His wrestling ability had a big hand in getting him in.

People who love wrestling will continue to wrestle, he said. Others may have second thoughts.

"I think this is going to impact people's views on wrestling," he said. "If it's an Olympic sport then it's a legitimate sport. Where they're taking it out, I think it undermines wrestling.

"It's just crazy, some of the sports they're keeping."

Iain Whitis, a senior at Chev- erus, became the school's first wrestling state champion, at 120 pounds, last year.

"I love everything about wrestling," he said after his 126-pound semifinal victory Saturday. "Wrestling is unbiased. As long as you're an athlete and you work hard and you practice hard, you're going to be good."

(Continued on page 2)

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Iain Whitis, Cheverus senior: “Olympics and wrestling are engraved in my mind. I think it impacts the sport at every level in every country. It draws from all over the world.”


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