February 14, 2013

Wrestling banned from the Olympics? Get rid of golf instead

Olympics organizers have long been concerned that the Summer Games are too gigantic, so they've decided to drop wrestling, a sport with a 2,700 year Olympic history, as of 2020. Granted, having two types of wrestling (regular and Greco-Roman) multiplied by the modern imperative of having women's versions of each is unwieldy. 

And the action is obscure for the once-ever-four-years spectator. With the sound off on TV, whenever there's a flurry of action, I can never tell whether my guy just scored or got scored upon. I attended wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, but I have fewer memories of it than of, say, weightlifting, which was awesome. (You know what else was dull? Basketball with Michael Jordan v. West Germany. All I remember is that the game started out with Uwe Blab as an unstoppable scoring machine, hitting three hook shots in a row. And then he stopped.)

Still, Olympic historian David Wallechinsky says 29 countries won medals in wrestling in 2012. It's exactly the kind of broad-based sport that deserves some Olympic glamour every four years.

Much of the criticism of this decision has focused on modern pentathlon as a better sport to evict. Personally, I always have high hopes for modern pentathlon because it's exactly the kind of sport I would invent: the idea is that you are a young officer in the Napoleonic Wars and you have to deliver a message first: you swim a river, shoot somebody, ride a horse, swordfight, and run. It would probably be cooler if the competitors shot at each other while riding horses.

Anyway, the sport I would ban from the Olympics is my favorite, golf, which is being added in Brazil in 2016. So few people in Brazil care about golf that they have to build a tournament-quality course from scratch. Gil Hanse is designing a Brazilian version of Rustic Canyon, the Ventura County muni I play more than any other.

But why golf in the Olympics? As far as I can surmise, it was only added because pre-disgrace Tiger Woods was on his patriotic kick when he had been thinking about giving up golf to join the Navy SEALs, and he wanted to hear the national anthem play while he got his gold medal.

Traditionally, professional golfers (other than Tiger) have been unenthused about adding golf to the Olympics. Why? First, because they are professionals and the Olympics is for amateurs. Granted, almost all the rules against professionals in the Olympics were junked long ago, but the Olympics remains amateur in the key sense that they don't pay prize money. 

Golf is Scottish, the Olympics, like tennis, are English.

Although the Olympics were revived by a French aristocrat, the Baron de Coubertin was a Jules Verne-like Anglophile who admired the sportingness of the English aristocrats. So amateurism was the founding principle of the Olympics. Similarly, Wimbledon was amateur-only until as recently as 1968. 

The Scots, however, worked out 150 years ago a two-track system for golf where the gentlemen could have their own Amateur tournament, while anybody could enter the Open. Hence the history of golf is almost wholly lacking in the hypocrisy and hysteria surrounding shamateurism in the Olympics and tennis.

The modern Olympics, going back to the 1984 L.A. Games, are American, driven by corporate marketing money. And that's fine, but golfers already get more of that than just about any other sport, so big deal.

Second, individual golf tournaments have higher degrees of randomness than most other sporting events. When American wrestler Rulon Gardner defeated that unbeatable Russian known as The Experiment that was great. When the world's 93rd best golfer comes in ahead of the world's #1, that's just standard operating procedure. Thus, the chance that the best golfer in the world will win a single four-round tournament on a glorified muni is not high. Flukish results are expectable enough to be unexciting.

So, ban golf.

29 comments:

Auntie Analogue said...


It begs to be said: the IOC really needs to get a grip.

RonMexico said...

Jeff Blatnick being interviewed by Russ Hellickson was a great 84 moment. How about Aleksander Karelin? Can't say I know when points are scored, though, so if wrestling is gone, will many notice?

Otis McWrong said...

Steve one reason given when the IOC dropped baseball was that not enough countries were capable of medaling in it. This seems dubious when they keep ping pong - every gold medal going to back to 1988 has been won by China or Korea with the exception of a Swede in 1992. Off the top of my head I'd say the US, Canada, S Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, and maybe 1-2 others are capable of medaling in baseball.

Dropping an original sport (what can be more basic than wrestling, foot racing, boxing, or swimming?) but keeping ping pong and trampoline is absurd.

slumber_j said...

I dunno. We know what the IOC *say* are their reasons for dinging wrestling. But isn't it more likely that the wrestling people were short-sightedly remiss in handing out the hookers and blow, etc.?

John Mansfield said...

There are many arguments why dropping wrestling from the "Olympics" is a silly idea. On the other hand the three-ring silliness of the professional wrestling doesn't help.

Anonymous said...

"I attended wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, but I have fewer memories of it than of, say, weightlifting, which was awesome."

Ahhh you have no eyes. Wrestling, like judo, only seems boring because it's not splashy. But the reason for its 'boringness' is the ever-present tension that ANYTHING can happen at any moment.
Two equally matched guys are looking for that one crack in the guard to slip through and gain the upperhand.


Anonymous said...

For true fans of wrestling, greco-roman is the real event.

Head to head, shoulder to shoulder, chest ti chest than each guy diving for the other guy's smelly feet.

What they should get rid of is women's wrestling. It just looks stupid.

Geoff Matthews said...

I remember watching the match where Rulon Gardner beat Karelin, and thought that the point awarded on a technicality could have gone either way. Watching the video, I still can't understand it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9yiCuX1hV8

I wouldn't put a corruption charge completely out of bounds on the reffing.

irishman said...

Basically they should not include any sport for which the Olympics is not the pinnacle event. So along with golf, take football, boxing, cycling, show-jumping, boxing and tennis out.

They won't do this though. These are the money spinner sports. Kicking the arse out of half of the total tickets sold for London were for football games. I imagine this will be even higher in Brazil.

Seems odd that they decided to include golf in 2016 and not 2012 in the UK where the sport was invented.

C. Van Carter said...

Some Olympics suggestions.

Nick Diaz said...

For once, I agree with Steve Sailer. Yes, let's ban wrestling and all the ORIGINAL sports, you know, those that actually have something to do with warring which is for what the original Olympics were created for by the Hellenes - to provide friendly non-warring competition between the different city-states -, but let's keep all the sissified "sports" around.

When the Hellenes created the original Olympics, wrestling and pugilism were the two most important events because they were the manliest and most closely associated with warfare. Other events associated with warfare, such as hammer throwing and spear-throwing, were not as prestigious because they were perceived to demand less athletic ability. Only centuries latter was the marathon elevated to the position of prestigie that it has today.

I suspect wrestling got canned because it involves some degree of full-contact physical violence, and we just can't have that in this modern World.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

I lost interest in the Olympics years ago, well before the post-Atlanta decision that no further Olympics would be privately funded, that it was a requirement that local taxpayers be chattel for this corrupt organization.

Clearly, the organization has absolutely no shred of tradition, heritage, or ideals. I mean, really, what is the essence of Olympics:

1) Track/Field
2) Wrestling
3) Other stuff....

Anonymous said...

I agree. Definitely drop golf. Drop baseball, too. The best baseball players are in the MLB, the Olympics is in the middle of their season and hardly any of the best players would be able to compete.

Risto

Anonymous said...

"The Scots, however, worked out 150 years ago a two-track system for golf where the gentlemen could have their own Amateur tournament, while anybody could enter the Open. Hence the history of golf is almost wholly lacking in the hypocrisy and hysteria surrounding shamateurism in the Olympics and tennis."

Steve,

This isn't a simple Scots/English divide as you imply, and you'd know that if you knew more about sports outside of the USA-sports-bubble.

Cricket is as old or older than golf, is English, and had a dual amateur/pro system long before the modern Olympics were invented. Gentleman amateurs and working class pros who took a salary played on the same team but didn't socialize together, had separate changing rooms, etc. Weird, but very 18th/19th century English.

Football (soccer) also had a dual amateur/pro system with separate pro and amateur club competitions since the late 19th century.

Rugby union being very middle class stuck to amateurism the longest, 1995, but a century earlier rugby league had split off as a separate pro sport.

The English can do the pro/amateur thing as well as the Scots.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, WTF is going on in the world!?!?!?

Anonymous said...

"When American wrestler Rulon Gardner defeated that unbeatable Russian known as The Experiment that was great."

NO, IT WASN'T. THAT WAS A TRAVESTY! KARELIN SHOULD HAVE WON. HE BEAT THE FAT BOY. LONG LIVE RUSSIA.

Anonymous said...

Mallympics. Idiocracy in action.

How about plunging?

BrokenSymmetry said...

What can one say of an organization that also got rid of the plunge for distance?

Steve Sailer said...

Indeed.

FWG said...

I'm a golf nut, but I'd hate to see wrestling get the boot in order for golf to become an Olympic sport. I don't understand the whole scenario, to be honest. It goes against tradition. Not to mention it takes away one of Finland's best sports.

Anonymous said...

My brother is a golf not ... whenever I go to visit ...it's Tiger this Tiger that (yes he is a full grown adult male wih an advanced degree and caucasian no less).

Every weekend when he is not playing he is watching it on TV..

Ban golf from the Olympics? For the love of God by all means.

Anonymous said...

>Jules Verne-like anglophile

In Jules Verne's collected letters to his father, he mentions with approval a new sculpture, of John Bull, nude, with one thumb in his mouth and one in his posterior. For situations were a civilized Frenchman would consider reasoned thought appropriate, a second statue showed him switching thumbs.

Anonymous said...

Please don´t cancel golf. The course is being built right in front of my window. It´ll probably raise my apartment´s value. My only problem is they are building it on land that is illegal to be built on...

Also, my sister is going to be on the female olympic golf team(for Brazil). Look out for Maria McHugh. I´ll probably also be a golf pro at this course. making a living giving rich Brazilians golf lessons won´t be so bad...

Anonymous said...

They got rid of baseball because of anti-Americanism.

Anonymous said...

I would get rid of any Olympic sport that I personally could medal in.

What I'm talking about of course is the kind of team sport -- like basketball or hockey -- where a team can have bench warmers who still go home with medals. If it's possible for you to put me on the team, maybe even give me a few token minutes of playing time so I stand around looking stupid, and still win a medal, then that sport should not be in the Olympics.

jody said...

the reasons IOC gave were nonsensical, so this must be a political decision. if it's about spectator interest, about 20 other sports have lower ratings. if it's about participation rate, then only 3 or 4 sports sports in the olympic program have more athletes, more national programs, more sports science, and more money put into them than wrestling. it towers over most other sports in the olympic program in terms of how big it is worldwide. it's been around for 100 years in it's current form and is played in most nations.

steve said wrestling is a "once every 4 years" sport in the US, but ESPN televises the NCAA wrestling championships every year, over a 3 day period, in primetime. an american network also could, if they wanted, show the world championships, which happen every year except olympic years. they already televise the track & field world championships and swimming & diving world championships.

wrestling is the number 6 sport in the US by participation rate, twice as popular as tennis, swimming, or golf. although i would say a lot of that has to do with it having weight classes, so small weak men who cannot participate in other sports, can have a place competing against other small weak men in wrestling. boxing has the same approach, increasing participation by protecting small weak men from other men who would naturally crush them.

but wrestling is probably literally 100 times more popular than boxing, worldwide, if we go by participation rate. in 2012, about 275000 american boys participated in high school wrestling. participation in amateur club boxing for high school age teenagers was probably not much more than 2750 boys, though i don't have exact numbers. what i do know is that the current number of active pro boxers in the US is about 2800. that figure spans professionals from age 18 to age 50. so i'd wager the range of amateurs between ages 14 and 18 is less than that. 3 americans medaled in wrestling at the 2012 games, while no americans medaled in boxing.

jody said...

china is having trouble winning medals at wrestling, which shows wrestling is a "real" sport, that takes a major sports program and a couple decades to produce world class players. it's not a low participation rate sport which a nationalistic minded nation can walk into and win every medal for 12 years in a row, like china has done in a few other sports.

if you wanted a salacious idea to get your conspiracy juices flowing, one notion here could be that china is trying to convince several people on the IOC council to vote against wrestling, to get it out of the way, and make it easier for china to win the overall olympic medal count. it's fun to think about and probably not what happened, although it's still in the realm of possibility.

what steve points out about watching wrestling at the olympics, is one of the already acknowledged problems with it. that FILA has surrendered to IOC, and changed the rules of olympic wrestling to suit what IOC wants. this results in wrestling matches where the spectators cannot figure out what is going on, how scoring works, and why one wrestler won a close match over another. spectators would have an easier time understand wrestling matches under normal FILA rules for freestyle, where simple takedown/escape/pin action makes sense to the average viewer. or normal FILA rules for greco, where throws and suplexes and grapevines are easy to understand. and now there is also some corruption creeping into the refereeing and judging.

but...olympic boxing has all these problems, to a much worse degree, and has had them for longer. IOC has perverted olympic boxing to the point where it barely resembles amateur boxing. nobody can understand why one punch scores a point and another doesn't, meanwhile, everybody sees the blatant corruption in refereeing and judging. if wrestling is bad and worth dropping for these reasons, boxing should be twice as likely to go.

jody said...

steve mentioned olympic weightlifting, which can be fun...but it has even lower spectator interest than wrestling, and it's not even in the same league as wrestling as far as participation goes. it's such a small sport that the united states does not even send a team.

as i've stated before, powerlifting and strongman are the bigger strength sports. so if IOC policy were based on data, they'd drop olympic lifting and replace it with one of those 2 sports. not that i want to see that, but this is what IOC would do if spectator interest or participation rates were their guiding principles in every instance, which they aren't.

" But isn't it more likely that the wrestling people were short-sightedly remiss in handing out the hookers and blow, etc.?"

this is my other thought, aside from the china conspiracy idea. several other sports have been lobbying for inclusion into the olympics, and wrestling probably has zero people ever conducting a lobbying effort - and why would they? the last thing IOC would ever do is drop track & field, swimming, or wrestling. there's no reason for the core sports to lobby for anything.

Anonymous said...

I can remember a time when every so often whole new sports were being talked up always for 'the next Olympics'.

Frisbees, skateboarding, BMX biking I remember all of those being mentioned when I was a kid.