STILLWATER--Oklahoma State wrestling coach and two-time Olympic gold medalist John Smith weighed in on the International Olympic Committee's decision to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympic games, which was announced Tuesday morning. A video of the interview and transcript are below:
On what wrestling means to him "Growing up in Del City and having a sport like wrestling kind of guided me. It gave me a lot of direction and no question, the opportunities I've had through the sport like traveling all over the world and being able to meet people of all ethnic backgrounds has been a true privilege. Also, having the opportunity to reach the highest level in our sport, which is the Olympic gold medal, and getting to do that twice. Looking back, I realize how lucky I was. The sport of wrestling gave me a lot of opportunities."
On the significance of the International Olympic Committee's recommendation to drop wrestling from the 2020 Olympics "I think the disappointing thing from this morning is that the IOC recommended eliminating wrestling from the 2020 Olympics. It's just devastating. There's no one in the sport of wrestling in the world that had any idea that this was going to happen. There had been talk about a lot of sports over the last eight years. We were caught off guard with this. What was disappointing was that we really didn't have any representation [on the committee] to fight for ourselves. It was a judgment that didn't have any credentials behind it. That's what was disappointing."
On who is most affected "When you're talking about who's most affected by it, you're looking across the country and across the world. Our sport is diversified. We have almost 200 countries that participate in wrestling. Comparing that with the other core sports in the Olympics, it's one of the highest. We meet the IOC's criteria of being an Olympic sport. We're up at the top in several of those categories. That's diversity and participation throughout the world. We have over a million wrestlers just in the United States. There's not a million athletes in some of the sports that are participating in the Olympics. The recommendation that came down of eliminating wrestling in 2020 is not justified."
On the 2012 Olympics "This past Olympics at London in 2012, there were over 70 countries that participated in wrestling. When you compare that to other sports, again, wrestling is very high on the list. That has always been what the Olympic movement has been about, which is country's participating in all the sports. Our international governing body has always moved to develop wrestling throughout the world...When you talk about participation, it's a number that is staggering. It's well represented and it meets every criteria [the IOC] is looking for."
On why he believes the decision was not justified "One of the most disappointing things that I've learned today is that this decision came down among the executive committee of the IOC, and we had no representation from the United States on the executive committee. How can you vote on a sport that [the United States] has dominated throughout time in the Olympics with [the United States'] medal count has been one of the highest of any sport and have no representation? The United States won the medal count and there's no representation for our sport or our governing body in a vote. Nor did we have any idea that wrestling had a real threat of being dropped. There was no voice for wrestling in the decision making of the IOC.
"When you look at the criteria of the IOC and everything their movement is about, wrestling shouldn't even be considered on the chopping block. Of the last three sports that were recommended, two of them were two of our best sports: baseball and softball. Now, it's wrestling. Those three sports, traditionally, from the United States have done extremely well. You're wondering what's going on and what's wrong with this problem. Wrestling meets everything they're looking for, especially the participation throughout the world and the diversity. Although we have a million wrestlers in the United States, that's a small number compared to some of the countries. The fight is just starting. It was a recommendation from the IOC that wrestling would not be allowed in the 2020 Olympics. There will be additional meetings from this point forward, one in May and the final decision September of 2013. I can tell you the wrestling world will come together. It will unite. The fight has just begun."
On the ramifications on American folkstyle wrestling "Remember that Olympic wrestling and high school, college and youth wrestling are two different worlds. You're talking about it affecting just a few. The sport, the training and the wrestling is totally different. In high school wrestling, we've grown over this last decade by 40,000 plus athletes. We've added 95 college programs in all divisions over the last 10 to 12 years. Wrestling throughout the United States is very strong. I think it's for those few young men at the age of 10 or 12 that have a dream, and it's what gives them the stability in their life and the discipline and the courage to chase that dream. It's personal. The state of Oklahoma, since 1924, has won Olympic gold medals in the sport of wrestling. It's probably our most successful sport in the Olympics for the state. I'm fighting for that 12-year-old kid in Oklahoma. I'm fighting for that kid that has that dream. Everything that the criteria that the IOC has for who is going to be in the Olympics and who is not, is being met by wrestling and it's setting the standards in a lot of the criteria to determine what sport is in and what sport is out."
On his first reaction to the news of the IOC's recommendation "My first reaction this morning was emotional. It was a tough, tough 15 minutes because I didn't know at the time that there was an opportunity to fight back. I didn't know at the time that we can win this battle. It just made me sick to think that the opportunity for 14, 15, 16-year-old kids who have thoughts about being an Olympic champion is erased. We may only be talking about a handful of kids. It made me sick. As the day went on, I got stronger. I was on the phone a lot today with not just people in this country but all over the world. We're all ready to stand together."
On the next step "We recognize that we have until May, the first meeting. The final decision is in September. We have some great leaders right now that are working on where we go from here. I can tell you that for countries like India, one of the few medals they won was in wrestling. One of the strongest sports is wrestling. All throughout Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, the Japanese, who dominated and one of their best Olympics in wrestling, and all the republics of the old Soviet Union- it's one of their key sports and one of the only medals they get. It's not just us. It's not just Oklahoma State or John Smith that has passion for wrestling. It's all over this world and there are a lot of numbers behind it. With those numbers is how we get things changed."
On what he has to say to youth wrestlers "To any young kid who hears there's not going to be wrestling in the Olympics, keep fighting. Keep working. Keep training. I'm going to fight for you. There's only one option with this decision and that's to get it overturned. I'm going to live every day to make a difference in that final decision."