Wrestling: Hopefully it's not over
BRANDON - If you've never been to a state high school wrestling final, you should go, because it is a beautiful thing. It's one of those times where all the countless hours and years of work come down to a few minutes for the wrestler, his coaches and his family. Everybody is a nervous wreck before the finals, when two young men square off in the middle of a big arena to see who will become a state champion. It's loud and raucous and tense.Wrestlers win and jump in their coaches' arms. Wrestlers lose and sob in their coaches' arms. Parents usually cry either way. Now multiply that — all of it — times the world. That's what wrestling in an Olympic final is. And now, at least for the moment, it is gone. It's true: The International Olympic Committee voted a few weeks ago to drop wrestling — perhaps the oldest form of competition known to man — from the 2020 Summer Games. The news rolled through wrestling communities around the world and left thousands of wrestlers bewildered and angry, and most of all disheartened, which is a strange feeling for most wrestlers, who like to dream. It's the dreams that get them running and lifting weights before school, wrestling for hours at practices and watching their diets so they can make weight. It's dreams that get bolstered when they see a former teammate, such as Brandon alum Franklin Gomez, wrestle in the 2012 Olympic Games for Puerto Rico. "Having a dream is a powerful thing," said Brandon 138-pound wrestler Kevin Norstrem, standing in the middle of the Lakeland Center Feb. 16, moments after he won a record-tying fifth state individual title and received a standing ovation from the huge crowd. "One of my dreams, as I'm sure it is with many wrestlers here tonight, has been to wrestle in the Olympics. "Hopefully it's not over." Norstrem, along with hundreds upon hundreds at the Lakeland Center, signed a petition that was mailed to the Olympic committee to keep wrestling as one of the Games' 25 core sports. Several folks in the building asked the question: "What's in the pentathlon again?" The question was asked because the modern pentathlon was one of the sports preserved, and in case you're wondering, the modern pentathlon is a series of five sports: shooting, fencing, a 200-meter freestyle swim, show jumping with an "unfamiliar horse" and a 3,000-meter cross-country run. But no wrestling. Brandon wrestling coach Russ Cozart — who has coached 23 of Brandon's 24 state-record state titles, including 13 in a row — said he wasn't totally surprised by the committee's decision because FILA, the governing body for international amateur wrestling, hasn't been on their game. "FILA dropped the ball," Cozart said. "It was FILA's job to keep wrestling in the Olympics and they didn't do it. Some changes need to be made, it seems to me." Some changes have been made. A few days ago, Switzerland's Raphael Martinetti announced he was stepping down at a FILA executive committee meeting in Thailand. That said, wrestling still has a chance to be included in the 2020 Games, but it likely is a long shot because wrestling must make its appeal to the Olympic committee in May, which isn't a lot of time considering baseball/softball, karate, rollers sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu have had more time to prepare their cases for the committee. "You see, wrestling (FILA) was caught off-guard by this," Cozart said. "Now they're having to play catch up. It's not going to be easy." That means guys like Norstrem, who is going on scholarship to Virginia Tech, must work like crazy in the next three years for a chance to compete in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. "I'll give it everything I have," said Norstrem, who looked up because the crowd at the Lakeland Center began to roar because another Brandon wrestler was getting his hand raised in victory. Norstrem grinned and waved to his teammate. A few minutes later, in answer to a question, he said: "You work and work with that dream in the back of your mind. Then it's unbelievable to see your dreams get crushed by someone on the other side of the world." Then he repeated: "Hopefully it's not over."