The wrestling community has played a big role in keeping the sport’s Olympic dreams alive, according to South Dakota high school and college wrestling coaches.
This week, the International Olympic Committee said wrestling was one of three selected to compete for the last provisional spot for the 2020 and 2024 Olympic games.
Wrestling, squash and a combined bid from baseball/softball will be presented for a final vote by the IOC general assembly during its September meeting. Only one of the three sports makes the final cut.
"I think this was some very exciting news that we got to the next step," Bon Homme wrestling coach Mark Stoebner said, "but we can’t sit back and relax now. We have to keep pushing and keep making our voices heard."
In February, the IOC voted to eliminate wrestling from the Summer Games, dropping the sport that has been a part of every modern Olympics since the inaugural 1896 Athens Games except one.
Stoebner said when the IOC’s initial decision was reported, it sent a shockwave across the sport’s hard-core fanbase. He said wrestlers on his team have kept a close eye on the situation.
"I feel positive that we’re going to get it through, but we can’t relax now," Stoebner said.
Dakota Wesleyan University wrestling coach Matt Sedivy said the IOC’s decision to drop the sport from the Olympics was the talk of the tournament when seven of his wrestlers qualified for nationals this year. He saw T-shirts and signs showing support of Olympic wrestling.
In addition to the support at tournaments, websites have been created, petitions started and political figures have voiced their opinions to keep the sport.
Sedivy said he expects the sport to beat out squash and baseball/softball to earn the final spot in the 2020 games.
"People in general are making their voice heard that wrestling should be a part of Olympics," Sedivy said. "It’s a hot topic, and it’s tough for wrestlers to talk about it because it makes us so mad."
South Dakota has had at least six Olympic wrestlers in its history.
Lyman wrestling coach Chad Johnson listed 1984 gold medalist Randy Lewis, a Rapid City native, and 2000 bronze medalist Lincoln McIlravy of Philip, as competitors that today’s high school wrestlers admire. Other South Dakota Olympic wrestlers are Jim Scherr, a 1988 competitor from Mobridge; Bill Scherr, a 1988 bronze medalist from Mobridge; Dennis Koslowski, a 1988 bronze medalist and 1992 silver medalist from Doland; and Duane Koslowski, a 1988 Olympian from Doland. The Scherrs are brothers, as are the Koslowskis.
"The highest wrestling goes is to the Olympics and if you don’t have that, there aren’t as high of goals for these kids to set," Johnson said. "I just can’t imagine wrestling not in the Olympics. It would be a travesty and hard to imagine."