1.Reinstatement of Olympic wrestling
The biggest moment in Olympic wrestling history came Feb. 12, 2013, when the executive board of the International Olympic Committee chose to eliminate wrestling from the core sports of the Olympic Games. That date could have been the death knell of the sport, but instead became a rallying cry from millions of wrestlers from around the world. Unlikely political alliances were formed, special events were cast and politicians from around the world supported the virtues of the sport. By Sept. 8 the decision to reinstate the sport seemed logical and just, and the IOC reinstated wrestling.
There are too many individuals to thank. Some gave their time, and others gave their money, but the entire community played a role in keeping the Olympic dream alive for the next generation of wrestlers.
2. NCAA wrestling parity
From Bryce Busler's upset of Kendric Maple to Stanford's improbable 6-1 start, the 2013-2014 NCAA wrestling season has already been filled with upsets and excitement stemming from a more-equal competition field.
The recent growth of wrestling has meant that more schools are starting to see success at the national level. For example, after a full endowment of the coaching staff positions and improvements to the workout facility, Columbia's Steve Santos earned that school's highest-ever individual NCAA finish in 2013. On the other side of the country, Oregon State manages a top ten season, while Stanford opens 2013-2014 by rattling off wins against opponents like Maryland, Michigan, and Central Michigan.
The capability of wrestling talent has improved nationwide and with increased financial support, better coaching education and a larger talent pool from which to choose, more schools have the opportunity to succeed at the NCAA tournament. That equates to a stronger sport, more fans and hopefully, long-term viability.
3. Aaron Pico and Kyle Snyder
World champions Aaron Pico and Kyle SnyderThe 2013 Cadet and Junior World champions are showing that the future of USA Wrestling is stronger than it has been in more than 20 years. Pico, who recently beat a senior level Russian wrestler, has become the face of America's newest gold-level talent, while Snyder is wrestling with the best junior talent in the world and winning.
Pico and Snyder are so talented that some are questioning whether they will even compete in college. Snyder already opted out of his senior season in high school to train at the Olympic Training Center. He'll arrive at Ohio State soon, though it's possible that he could redshirt and then take an Olympic redshirt within the next three years. He's aiming for the 2016 Games (as he should) and could be the future of America's upperweight representation on the international stage.
Pico is still in high school, but is aiming for Olympic glory. With more success, and having already taken the first semester off from school as a sophomore, there is a chance that Pico could become a mainstay on the international stage. No American freestyler has spent their formative years as a wrestler in the eye of the public more than Pico. What effect will that have on his development? Unclear, but we are certainly lucky to have such a talented and committed Cadet-level wrestler.
4. Tour ACW, Aon, Victory, Grapple at the Garden's Super Match
With four marquee events over the next year, wrestling has never had more opportunity to showcase its top talent. Whether the event is the UFC/WWE-inspired Agon Wrestling Championships or an add-on event like the Super Match at Grapple at the Garden, the sport is attracting new fans and keeping casual fans engaged with promotable events featuring top talent. Though it's unclear what will happen in the post-#SaveOlympicWrestling world, it's encouraging that there is some short-term interest in wrestling beyond the scholastic and international ranks. There will be a contraction in the number of events, but hopefully those that do survive will prosper and reestablish the marketability of the sport within pop culture.
5. Improving technology
Every meaningful wrestling event is now being streamed online ... high school, college and international. If there is even a marginal interest in the event, it seems that some entity will stream it online. Though television is the best form of legitimizing the sport, the availability of the action to fans has been a necessary first step to gaining more television access. If you pay attention to Twitter then you know the number of streaming events has grown exponentially over the last few months, because when matches, tournaments and meets aren't streamed, the backlash is massive and immediate.
6. Editor Andrew Hipps
I'm fortunate to work for a kind, intelligent and thoughtful boss. He will have to edit this piece, which will make him feel odd, but I don't mind, because in a world filled with malcontents and pessimists, I'm thankful to work for an optimistic, good-natured guy who is passionate about his work and the sport of wrestling. Andrew deserves my praise and the praise of others. He's one of the good guys.
7. Jordan Burroughs
Burroughs has won 65 straight matches, but the real appeal isn't just that he has an unstoppable double leg, but a mass-market appeal that will result in personal endorsements and the type of energy that keeps wrestling in the public eye. Beyond his marketability here in the states, Burroughs is also much loved by the international wrestling community for displaying courage and skill on the mat. Wrestling fans are fortunate to be watching his career develop but he's also the type of wrestler we want representing the Stars and Stripes overseas.
8. Wrestling community
The most passionate fan base in sports -- the wrestling community has used the last year to show the world the strength of our connection. No other sport is bound by a more formative experience, and that shared enjoyment and misery equates to a familiarity among competitors both old and young. We are special in the most important sense of the term. We're unique in our level of discipline and willingness to sacrifice for our goals. I'm grateful every week for the insightful, energetic and passionate queries of our community, and can't wait to see what 2014 will bring our sport.
9. Changes to come
From FILA to the NCAA the last year has been one of change. Matches are being marketed, tournaments are being promoted and the energy behind the sport is driving interest and innovation. There will be new technologies and developments over the next year that will bring a more understandable and accessible sport to the masses.
10. What about you?
What are you thankful for? Leave your comments at the bottom.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK
By Tim R.
I think that a school should be able to enter more than one wrestler at a weight for all individual tournaments, including postseason. It sounds weird at first, but the more I thought about it the more sense it made. If you think about it, wrestling is the only individual sport that doesn't allow more than one kid from a school to compete. Whether its track, cross country, swimming, gymnastics, they all let multiple kids from the same school compete. If the two best kids in the state are both at 138 pounds, who cares if they are from the same school. As far as team scoring, just only allow a school to pick which kid will score points for them. I think kids quit the sport when they are on a squad that has really good guys all around them and they can't break the starting lineup. Also, if you have two or three really good kids all around the same weight, we have to make the kid either lose a lot of weight to get to the lower weight class or make him wrestle up and give up weight. If we are in it for the kids, let's do what's best for them and allow them to compete at the best weight for them, regardless of who happens to be on their school's team. I know if this is adopted there will be some issues to deal with, but I think we can work through them.
There would need to be some limits set on bracket sizes, so maybe only allow a set number of wild card slots for a tournament, and the most qualified "backups" would get those spots. They could qualify based on varsity wins or the point system we already use for seeding tournaments. I coach a team that this has been a big issue with this year and last. I've got about four kids that either could or have qualified for states all around the same weight. I had a returning state runner-up as a sophomore get bumped up his junior year two weights higher than what he should have been because his teammates were better and beat him in a wrestle-off for postseason spots. This year I'll have a kid probably dropping more weight than he should so he can be in the lineup. I know people will say it's a good problem to have, but not for the kid that has to drop 10 pounds, or the kid that gets bumped two weight classes up.
InterMat senior writer T.R. Foley answers reader questions about NCAA wrestling, international wrestling, recruiting, or anything loosely related to wrestling. Questions can be sent to Foley's email account or Twitter.
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