Grappling with the International Olympic Committee's recommendation this week to drop wrestling from its program, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and a team of wrestling advocates gathered Friday to launch a campaign to save one of the state's beloved sports.
Wearing a newly printed T-shirt with the campaign slogan, "Let's Keep Wrestling," Branstad highlighted the sport's ties to Iowa at a brief news conference near the Iowa State High School Wrestling Tournament, a popular annual event being attended by tens of thousands of people.
"When the International Olympic Committee voted by way of secret ballot to remove wrestling from the Games in 2020, we felt that decision was shortsighted, and was a significant departure from Olympic tradition," Branstad said, noting that a website was launched Thursday to collect petition signatures. As of Friday afternoon, more than 2,000 people had added their names.
One of Iowa's most famous wrestlers, 1972 Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable, said the campaign would eventually go national and international. He provided few details about the planned expansion. Gable is also part of a USA Wrestling group that will try to fight the IOC's decision.
He said it would be tough to reverse the IOC's recommendation, but it was clear the idea struck a nerve.
"They might have thought that wrestling was going to be an easy pass, but as you can see, there are places like this all over the world. It's just not Iowa. There's places like this all over the world that will generate this type of enthusiasm for the sport," Gable said.
Gable, who coached the University of Iowa's wrestling team from 1977 to 1997, also touted the sport's global financial impact, though again gave few details.
"Bottom line is wrestling is good for the economy," said Gable, who had more wins than any wrestling coach in school history. "When you're good for the economy you're going to survive."
Branstad was joined Friday by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. The governor said his re-election campaign was funding the "Let's Keep Wrestling" effort instead of the state, and he feels it's a good investment.
He said the campaign had broad support, and says the state's congressional delegation signed a letter that was sent to IOC President Jacques Rogge, describing wrestling's importance Iowans and the Olympics.
The United States, Russia and Iran also have expressed disappointment with the IOC's decision. On Tuesday, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun questioned the decision "given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality."
Wrestling, which was featured in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, will still be a part of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Terry Brands, the associate head wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, spoke about his childhood aspirations and how the Olympics fueled his imagination to be better at the sport. He won a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics.
"The Olympic movement provided that imagination and that mentality to aspire to be the best," he said. "Think about the youth. And the way that they are allowed to build their mentality, whether they become great 'whatever' in their future."
University of Northern Iowa wrestling coach Doug Schwab said the key will be to continue to build momentum until an official decision is made this fall.
"We're here to band together," he said. "Keep that fire lit until September."
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