The high school wrestling season won’t begin until November, but 14 athletes from four different school teams gathered spontaneously Monday night to train at John Oliver secondary. Afterwards, they went to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cake to celebrated the reinstatement of their sport to the Summer Olympic Games.
The International Olympic Committee was widely and harshly criticized for removing the ancient and elemental sport from the core roster of the Summer Games. Rio 2016 would have marked the last Olympics for wrestling had the IOC not rescinded and, in an about-face last weekend, selected wrestling for Olympic inclusion over squash, wakeboarding and a dual bid from softball and baseball among other sports.
In turn, the IOC criticized the stale leadership of wrestling's international governing body, known as FILA, and demanded the sport modernize and find ways to appeal to a broader audience. The result is a new, energized president as well as more weight classes for women and a streamlined scoring system to popularize wrestling as a spectator sport.
It was welcome news for J.O. wrestling coach Chris Fuoco. “I was thrilled. I was ecstatic. I really brought me back," he said. "I was 10 years old again, watching Graham Smith at the Commonwealth Games. I didn’t even wrestle then. When I saw this stuff on TV, I wanted to be an Olympian.”
Smith, a swimmer, won six medals at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton.
When he got the news Sunday about the IOC’s decision, Fuoco started texting wrestlers to see who wanted to meet. Two came from Britannia, one from Gladstone and one more from Van Tech in addition to the 10 athletes from J.O.
“Why do we have high school wrestling, anyway,” asked the tireless and respected coach. “It’s all because of the Olympics.”
Fuoco — like freestyle wrestling and Olympic gold medallist Daniel Igali — didn’t have the stature to play professional hockey or basketball. he said. But wrestling is a sport that favours athleticism, agility, strength and strategy. It is not the elite sport it once was, but added, “If we’re going to grow our sport, we’re going to have to do things differently.”
Already the motivational coach is encouraging Vancouver wrestlers to pitch themselves at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. J.O. will host an exhibition meet between SFU and the University of Winnipeg later this fall, followed by a one-day clinic for high school athletes.
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