As a young boy growing up in Montreal, my experience with wrestling was limited to All-Star Wrestling on Saturday mornings. The likes of Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon and “Giant” Jean Ferre would battle a motley crew of challengers using the holds like “the sleeper” and “the pile driver,” or resort to using chairs and “weapons” slyly hidden in their wrestling boots (how could the referees not see that!) to defeat their opponents.
So you can imagine the thrill when my dad told my brother and me that he had procured tickets to see wrestling at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. And you can imagine my disappointment when we showed up and found neither a wrestling ring, a referee in the telltale zebra stripes, nor even ringside officials with a bell. What we found instead was a large mat on the floor and two competitors in singlets wearing headgear actually shaking each others’ hands and bowing to the referee.
It was then that I knew that wrestling’s days as an Olympic sport were numbered.
The recent announcement that wrestling — a sport that has been in every modern Olympics and can be traced back to the Olympics’ ancient roots — has been removed from the Olympics is just another indication of the pop-culturalization of the Olympic movement.
High-intensity, spectator-friendly (and more importantly TV-friendly) sports like ski-cross and mountain biking have replaced some of the more genteel sports. Wrestling is gone; can fencing and equestrian be far behind?
The IOC is, first and foremost, a for-profit entity and so they need to watch their bottom line. Let’s face it: People don’t want to watch wrestling; instead, they want to see bikini-clad women playing beach volleyball.
And although all the participants at the Olympics are phenomenal athletes, they are just the medium for delivering advertising. I won’t be the least surprised when Mixed Martial Arts knocks Judo and Taekwondo off the Olympic mat with a sliding foot sweep. Or when Bikram Yoga contorts itself into the games as an Olympic event. Think about it: sweating, hard, young bodies in impossible positions. Is there anything more TV-ready? Is there anything more Olympic?
I do lament the loss of wrestling in the Olympics even though since 1976, I haven’t watched more than a few highlights on the late-night wrap-up Olympic coverage; and other than Carol Huynh, I couldn’t name a wrestler.
And if I had to guess, I’d bet “Mad Dog” isn’t too thrilled either, and, believe me, you don’t want to see him angry.