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Attempting a reversal

Oklahoma’s wrestling greats grapple with the International Olympics Committee to return the sport to the games.

Tim Farley May 15th, 2013

Oklahoma’s wrestling heavyweights are pinning their hopes that the sport will return to the Summer Olympics on a global alliance that includes Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Chad Smith, John Smith, Wayne Wells, Lee Roy Smith & Danny Hodge
Credit: Mark Hancock

While the U.S. has been at political odds with a number of these countries, wrestling has brought together representatives from across the world for a common goal: reinstating the sport as an Olympic event for the 2020 Summer Games.Two-time Olympic gold medalist and current Oklahoma State University mat coach John Smith and four other members of the state’s wrestling royalty were recognized by the state House of Representatives May 8 for their work to promote the sport.

Joining Smith were his brother and National Wrestling Hall of Fame Executive Director Lee Roy Smith; 1956 Olympic silver medalist Danny Hodge; 1972 gold medalist Wayne Wells; and Chad Smith, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and a former championship college wrestler.

House members that day also approved a resolution opposing the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to eliminate the sport from the 2020 games.

Before the wrestling dignitaries left the House floor, state Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, asked the 86-year-old Hodge — once hailed as the strongest man in the world — to demonstrate a unique talent of his. Hodge obliged, using his bare hand to squeeze the juice from an apple, drawing a standing ovation from House members and visitors in the gallery.

The resolution’s author, Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said the measure is designed to show support for Olympic wrestling worldwide, and for Oklahoma’s grapplers in particular. House Concurrent Resolution 1013 passed unanimously.

Credit: Mark Hancock

The Smith brothers and their international wrestling colleagues will try to persuade the IOC executive board to include wrestling as a provisional sport for 2020. Unless that occurs, the sport will not be part of the Olympics until 2024 at the earliest.

“Hey, Oklahoma wrestling is important, and we’ve had a lot of success,” John Smith said. “They (IOC) have heard the wrestling world, and hopefully we’ve given them every reason to put us back in. Oklahoma is a state that has produced 65 Olympians and 21 medalists in wrestling, and for that reason, people listen.”

With 177 countries that compete in Olympic wrestling, the international backlash has been “amazing,” said Lee Roy Smith, a silver medalist at the 1983 World Championships.

Hodge demolishes an apple
on the House floor.
credit: Stu Ostler

Wrestling had no representation at the IOC meeting in February, which prompted high-profile wrestling figures such as the Smith brothers to question the sport’s national and international leadership.

“I think they began taking things for granted a bit,” John Smith said. “They became complacent, assuming we were in good shape. Every sport has to do their work to remain in the Olympics.”

Wrestling will join seven other sports for a single opening in the 2020 games. The others include a combined bid from softball and baseball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu, a martial art.

Wrestling was eliminated in favor of the modern pentathlon after an IOC commission analyzed various criteria from the 2012 London games, including TV ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy, global participation and popularity.

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