Wrestlers cheer Olympic decision to reinstate sport

By Bernie Puchalski, St. Catharines Standard

Tina McLaren and Jessie MacDonald during workout in the Brock University wrestling room

Tina McLaren and Jessie MacDonald during workout in the Brock University wrestling room


Jevon Balfour has been a busy man since the International Olympic Committee decided to remove wrestling from the Summer Games following 2016.

The 18-year-old Brock wrestler went on as many websites as possible to vote in polls in favour of keeping wrestling. He was in the process of doing that Sunday night when someone messaged him on Facebook and told him wrestling has been reinstated by the IOC.

“I was excited but not as excited as people probably think I was because in the back of my mind I thought that it wasn’t going anywhere and there’s no way they could take it out,” the Brampton native said. “I would have been really, really upset if they had taken it out.”

Balfour was relieved by the news considering he’s one of the present and future stars of the Brock wrestling room. As a teenager, he won Ontario University Athletics and Canadian Interuniversity Sport individual titles this year.

“I want to do 2016, 2020, 2024 and 2028,” he said, with a laugh. “There’s no limit.”

Reigning 51-kilogram women’s world champion Jessie MacDonald heard the news after finishing a yoga session with her husband Evan MacDonald, a 2004 Olympian.

“I was really happy but, to be completely honest, I was pretty confident that we would win,” she said. “If it was the other way, I would have been devastated.”

What made MacDonald even happier is the decision to increase the number of women’s weight classes to six from four. At last year’s Olympic Trials, MacDonald tried to qualify at 48 kilograms but lost in the final to then Olympic champion Carol Huynh.

“I had heard that if it (more weight classes) went through, it wasn’t going to be until 2020. Once I heard it 2016, it was like a dream come true.”

Brock coach Marty Calder greeted the news with mixed emotions.

“In one sense, I was elated and relieved that we’re back in, but at the same time I’m a little bitter this whole process had to take place,” he said. “In my mind, the sport of wrestling is well-deserving to be in the Olympic program.”

There were a few good things about what happened, namely out-of-touch FILA (international wrestling) president Raphael Martinetti was replaced by Nena Lalovic and the sport made rule changes that appeased some of the concerns brought forward by the IOC.

“A positive is that moving forward we are better because of it,” Calder said.

But the changes didn’t come without a cost.

“We spent a lot of money that we could have spent elsewhere,” he said.

Calder likes that the number of women’s categories has increased, but isn’t thrilled the men’s divisions will drop to six from eight.

“It’s fair as far as sport equity, but unfortunately there’s a more diverse weight situation on the men’s side.”

When Calder went to the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, there were 10 weight classes. Women’s wrestling was introduced to the Games in 2004.

“They reduced it by 40% in 20 years and that limits the opportunities on the men’s side and there is a big number of participants on the men’s side,” he said. “I don’t minded created opportunities but there’s also lost opportunities.”

Among the rule changes are: changing to two three-minute rounds where the score is cumulative instead of three two-minute rounds where it was a best-of-three format; ties will be broken on the basis of who scored the highest-valued point instead of wrestlers picking a ball and the winner getting a distinct advantage in a tiebreaker; a wrestler getting warned for inactivity is given 30 seconds to get going or the other wrestler is awarded a point; and takedowns will count for two points instead of one.

“But they’re minimal changes,” Calder said. “Our sport has changed so dramatically and we’ve been changing constantly. Had we had proper leadership, I don’t think we would ever have encountered this.”

Calder also cautions that wrestling still isn’t recognized as one of the 25 core sports of the Summer Olympics and could end up on the chopping block again.

“I’m also sympathetic to squash and baseball because they are two great sports,” he said. “They almost pitted some of the sports against each other and we were knocking each other. We’re all part of the same family.”

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