LEWISTOWN - The International Olympic Committee's decision to make wrestling compete for a spot at the table beginning in 2020 caught the sport and its supporters by surprise.
Among those were local wrestling coaches and one nearby Division I wrestler - the kind of people who see the Olympics as the pinnacle of the sport, which has no true professional component.
"I was shocked how the Olympic Committee could make the decision to remove one of the oldest Olympic sports from the 2020 Games. Wrestling is one of the original sports in the ancient Olympic Games in Greece. Wrestling was also included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896," Juniata coach and former Lewistown wrestler Mike Robinson said. "For any youth involved in wrestling their ultimate dream is to compete for their country in the Olympics, and now their dreams may be taken away."
Kirby Martin, Mifflin County's coach, was equally stunned.
"I think everyone in the wrestling community was completely blindsided by this decision. How can the Olympic committee eliminate one of the original Olympics sports and one of the oldest sports? I am shocked!," he said. "This will hurt the international and post college wrestling in the United States. Getting an Olympic medal is the highest honor for a wrestler - now its gone. I will be curious to see how the rebuttal to this decision plays out."
The reaction so far has been perhaps more vocal than the IOC anticipated. Much of it has been driven by the United States, which has had a formidable presence in freestyle wrestling, with numerous medals - several gold - won by American wrestlers over the past 30 years. The U.S. has had a lesser presence in Greco-Roman wrestling, but picked up one gold in that form of the sport from Rulon Gardner.
USA Wrestling has established a website to promote the continuation of Olympic wrestling - keepwrestlingintheolympics.com - and Penn State coach Cael Sanderson, one of the gold medalists, counts himself a supporter of the organization's effort.
Juniata graduate Zach Beitz, a state champ a year ago who is on Sanderson's team now, said the reaction in the locker room was swift and negative toward the IOC decision.
"There is a lot of shock going through the team because we have a number of high caliber kids who have hopes and would have a shot at making the team," Beitz said. "Some of these guys are looking forward to wrestling in the Olympics and they all agree with coach Cael and what he has to say about the situation. We all feel that it is difficult to think that a sport with that kind of history would no longer be a part of the games."
Ken Chertow has been around Olympians and the Olympics as a wrestler and a coach, and has made wrestling his career. A successful wrestling camp owner, Chertow is quick to point out the benefits of the sport - and his belief that the recommendation will eventually turn back to a decision to keep wrestling.
"I know many of my local students and campers across the nation aspire to be Olympians and it motivates them to stay focused on their short term goals both on and off the mats. Wrestling develops not only a strong body but also a strong mind," he said. "There is no way our wrestling community will accept this recommendation by the IOC executive board. This is a battle we can win and I expect wrestling will remain an Olympic Sport in 2020 and forever.
"Wrestlers are known for their intense and relentless work ethic. As a wrestling community we will work tirelessly letting the IOC and world know why wrestling is so special."
Robinson, who has continued wrestling into adulthood, agrees that wrestlers will unite in opposition to the IOC's decree - with good reason.
"As I look back at some of the former wrestlers that I have had the honor to coach, I still see that same great work ethic that they had when they were on the mat and that was instilled in them by the sport of wrestling," he said. "And at one time all of those young athletes dreamed about wrestling in the Olympics."