With two United States Olympic flags hanging on the wall behind him, Ken Chertow took a moment to speak to several dozen youth wrestlers sitting in front of him.
Chertow, who wrestled for the United States in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, had a message to give before the kids left his training session. At Chertow’s Home Training Center in Boalsburg on Wednesday night, he told them wrestling is not going anywhere.
The reassurance came just one day after the International Olympic Committee’s executive board voted to drop wrestling — at least for the time being — effective for the 2020 Summer Games, a move that blindsided and riled up the wrestling community. If finalized, the move would allow another sport to be included in the Games.
Even though Olympic wrestling is in jeopardy, Chertow, a former three-time All-American wrestler for Penn State, was adamant that the sport would survive even if it is cut.
“If we don’t save wrestling [in the] Olympics, it won’t be the end of wrestling,” Chertow said. “Wrestling is going to thrive, no matter what. It’s a growing sport.”
However, Chertow was far from fine with the IOC’s decision, which could dash a child’s Olympic dreams. Chertow asked if the young athletes had heard of the decision, and if any of them who would like to wrestle at the Olympics one day — each time, they raised their hands.
Not surprisingly, parents are supporting their children’s aspirations. Nic Allison said the doubtful fate of the sport is a “scary thought” for his son, Nic.
“You hear a lot of the kids [talking] about it, so I’m anxious to see the outcome,” Allison said.
“Dreams are a great opportunity for kids to pursue, no matter how high the dreams they have. ‘Shoot for the stars,’ is what I tell him.”
After the session concluded, Chertow talked to reporters about the decision, which he called “foolish.”
Chertow said that one of the first steps that needs to be taken is finding out why the IOC decided to drop wrestling. Many were surprised by the decision, expecting a sport such as the modern pentathlon — which involves fencing, swimming, shooting , distance running, and show jumping (an equestrian event) — to be voted out instead.
Chertow said the decision to instead take away wrestling, a sport which dates back to the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, is “baffling.”
“I’ve never met a modern pentathlete in my life,” Chertow said. “I don’t know why they made that choice.”
Supporters of wrestling will have to hold their breaths for now. While the IOC has chosen to exclude wrestling, the Associated Press reported that wrestling can still be re-admitted when the IOC’s executive board meets in May to discuss which sports could be included. The board will then vote in September. The report also states some of the other sports contending for the single opening include baseball and softball, karate and wakeboarding.
But Chertow, along with other well-respected wrestling figures, are not content with simply waiting. He urged his youth athletes to take action by doing little things, such as signing petitions or writing letters to share their experiences in the sport.
“The more people that touch the IOC and let them know that there’s wrestlers out there, the better,” Chertow said. “People can’t sit by the wayside and be like, ‘Well, it’s somebody else’s job to do it.’”