ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Wrestling, which has been a part of the Olympic tradition since the Greeks started the games, faced getting cut from future Olympics earlier this year. It is through the efforts of lovers of the sport that it was reinstated for the 2020 Olympics.
John Bardis, owner of Alpharetta’s The Cooler and former U.S. Olympic team leader, led the charge to bring the sport back to the Olympics.
The Cooler hosted the Rally 4 Wrestling event the weekend of Aug. 30, which featured many guests from the Olympic wrestling world, including MMA fighter Bubba Jenkins and the American World Team, who both put on workshops and workouts for young wrestlers attending the rally.
The rally was part of a series of efforts to campaign for wrestling to be included in the 2020 Olympics. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted Sept. 8 to keep wrestling, although the rules would change.
The decision was to choose one of three sports to be a provisional part of the program for the 2020 and 2024 Olympics. In addition to wrestling, the other sports considered were baseball and softball, which are considered one sport, and squash.
“We wanted to show the popularity of the sport, the inclusiveness of it,” said Andy Barth, team leader for the U.S. Olympics freestyle wrestling team, of the rally. “We have people coming from all over to be here.”
To persuade the IOC, the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling was formed. Both Barth and Bardis are a part of this committee, which had two main goals to regain the favor of the IOC. One was gender equity, and Barth said that the committee made an effort to “make the sport more inclusive of women, and to maintain an aggressive pursuit of that.”
Another factor considered was entertainment value. The scoring, over time, had become too technical, which made the matches less interesting to watch. The scoring system was then changed to remedy this.
These efforts were successful, and then bolstered by several events. One of the most important, said Barth, was the international meet where the scoring change went into effect. The meet was between the American, Russian and Iranian wrestling teams.
“Matches went from interesting to flat-out exciting,” said Barth.
The meet also featured several women’s matches.
The Rally 4 Wrestling, part of a series of rallies across the country, was another effort to influence the IOC’s vote.
“We have a few objectives,” said Barth. “One is to create a positive excitement at the grassroots level in different areas of the country for wrestling.”
Second is to create the type of event that keeps sending the message to other parts of the world that wrestling is a sport that people are passionate about, committed to and who will come from a wide variety of areas.
Both these objectives were shown to be achieved by the turnout to Alpharetta’s rally.
The workshop featuring Bubba Jenkins, for example, gave young wrestlers the opportunity to come out and learn techniques from a currently undefeated MMA fighter and former collegiate wrestler.
“It’s going to be a beautiful thing if we’re going to continue having wrestling in our communities and the Olympics,” Jenkins said of the rally.
“I thought [the workshop] was awesome,” he said, turning to autograph a T-shirt for another young wrestler and fan.
The third objective of the event was to bring in the American World Wrestling Team and have them host several workouts for the rally, before leaving for a training camp to prepare for the World Championships. Barth said that the rally was also to, “let them know we’re behind them, and give them a proper send off.”