The new international wrestling rules were used during Sunday's United 4 Wrestling event in Los Angeles (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)On Wednesday I sent a tweet to the FILA Twitter account imploring whomever manning that account to make that day the last time balls are ever pulled out of a bag to determine the outcome of a wrestling match. Wacky as it sounds, FILA complied with my request. I therefore take full credit for the rule change while gleefully celebrating to an end to one of the most embarrassing chapters in wrestling history.
Before the last Olympics I wrote a series of articles previewing the wrestling portion of the Games. When I got to the point explaining the ball pull, I had to channel Dave Barry and preface with "I'm not making this up." I can still hardly believe that the procedure existed. It's almost as if FILA brought in a panel of bad comedy writers to brainstorm on the most madcap way to break a tie in a wrestling match.
As mind-numbingly terrible a feature as the ball grab was, it may still not be as bad as the last iteration of the Greco-Roman rules where Olympic gold medals were awarded to the people who were really good at stalling and laying on their bellies. The ball grab turned freestyle into the butt of jokes, enforced par terre turned Greco into an abomination. Now, hopefully we can look forward to brighter days.
The new rules possess greater fidelity to the spirit of the sport. They foster more action and should create a visually appealing product. The rules, however, do not make freestyle accessible to the casual fan, and they still demand high levels of knowledge from the highly involved.
Jake Herbert fell in the Olympic Games quarterfinals to Sharif Sharifov of Azerbaijan (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)Remember the Jake Herbert vs. Sharif Sharifov match from the quarterfinals of the London Olympics? Of course you do. You most certainly recall a sequence where Sharif was in on a double, Jake threw him back and rolled him through with a chest lock, and then Sharif scrambled out and ended up on top of Jake. Nobody knew how the hell to score it, and not just the people watching at home; the judges, ref, and even a FILA official all were at a loss. I've re watched the sequence a few times, and while I can understand a variety way to score it, I'm pretty darn certain the score that got thrown up was the wrong one. This speaks to freestyle's big problem: some situations are totally ambiguous, and in others the rules are terribly difficult to understand.
I can foresee a moment in the future where I'm watching some freestyle wrestling with a buddy (just kidding, I can't foresee this, but bear with me) and several questions are raised.
Buddy: Hey, why'd they score that 4-2 for the guy getting the takedown?
Me: Well, the momentum of the takedown carried the opponent to his back, but then the guy shooting got rolled through and his back was exposed, and so it's two exposure points, plus two points for the takedown, and two exposure points for the other guy.
Buddy: Hey! The same thing just happened but they scored it differently.
Me: No. See, this time the defensive guy stopped the attacker's momentum before rolling him through, thus making it "his move."
Buddy: What gives! That guy just tried a throw and got taken down but they scored no points.
Me: No, that's called a slip throw.
Buddy: Um … the same thing just happened but they ruled it a take down.
Me: No … No … No. He secured the takedown before the other guy fully slipped to the mat.
Buddy: All right, I know all the rules, I understand the criteria for exposure, and for takedowns, and for three-point moves, and five-point moves, but that guy right there almost hit a really awesome move that barely didn't work, but it didn't meet any criteria for any of those scores, but they gave him a point anyway. That was wrong, right?
Me: No, it was right. It was an appreciation point.
Buddy: A WHAT?!!!
One of the big complaints about freestyle (and Greco) when it was recommended for exclusion from the Games was that it was a sport only for experts. For better or worse, this is still true, and it always will be. Olympic wrestling is filled with subtlety and nuance and the accompanying controversy, and while that might prevent access to the casual viewer, it is what simultaneously also makes it great.
Finally I have some bad news. We are all basking in the glow of a great week for wrestling, albeit one that featured a thorough ass whipping at the hand of an Iranian team before their unscheduled departure, but what came from the FILA extraordinary congress should make us very concerned.
It's hard to divine what goes on in the hearts and minds of the members of the IOC executive board, their inner workings are utterly opaque. However, lately I've begun to speculate on a big reason for their initial decision to propose the exclusion of wrestling from the Games.
Disregarding the Greco/freestyle distinction and I have a feeling the IOC does, wrestling award 56 medals to men, and a mere 16 to women. Greco-Roman wrestling does not have a women's competition. There's even women's boxing now. I can't, off the top of my head, think of another men's Olympic sport without a female analogue.
I understand why we give more medals to men than women at this point in the development in the sport of women's wrestling, but my opinion could not be any more irrelevant. Wrestling's gender inequality undoubtedly weighs heavily on the minds of the IOC board, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if this was the real culprit in wrestling exclusion in the first place. Because FILA's bureau and member delegations couldn't summon the courage to take the tragic but necessary steps in jettisoning Greco-Roman wrestling, this gender inequality may be the real culprit in Olympic wrestling's demise at the end of this month.