Monday, August 17, 2009

If Tiger Woods were a wrestler

Y. E. Yang out shot Tiger Woods yesterday to win the PGA Championship. It is the first time in 15 tries that anyone has been able to overtake Woods when he has lead at the beginning of the final round of a “major” championship.

That wasn’t the only news in golf last week. The executive board of the International Olympic Committee recommended the inclusion of golf in the Olympics beginning in 2016. Tiger Woods is leading the charge.

Said Woods, “I think that golf is a truly global sport, and I think it should have been in the Olympics long ago. If it does get in, I think it would be great for golf and especially some of the other smaller countries that are now emerging in golf. I think it’s a great way for them to compete and play and get the exposure that some of these countries aren’t getting.”

The entire IOC council will vote on golf’s inclusion this coming October. Golfing legends like Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, Arnold Palmer and Lorena Ochoa are joining Woods in lobbying for acceptance. I suspect that companies like Callaway, Titleist and Ping are waiting in line to become Olympic sponsors. American broadcast rights for the 2016 games have not yet been awarded, but I’d guess that the competing networks are salivating over the possibility of four days of air time for Tiger – one of the biggest ratings boosters in all of sports. Millionaire athletes, major corporations and TV networks – does anyone else think that that’s too much influence to ignore?

Wrestling is one of the original Olympic sports. Milo of Croton, who won six Olympic championships between 540 B.C. and 520 B.C., may have been the world’s first superstar athlete. Wrestling continues as an Olympic event today and has had a women’s division since 2004.

It’s almost certain that the first golfers to tee it up for the United States in the Olympic Games will be millionaires. It’s also almost certain that the next American wrestlers to step on the mat in the Olympics will not be.

With a couple of exceptions, American wrestlers toil in relative obscurity. Unless they wrestle at one of the top ten college programs they are accustomed to competing in almost empty arenas and gyms. And they don’t seem to care. Few wrestle for the “glory” of it – and I doubt if any of them expect to be financially rewarded for all of those grueling hours spent “in the room”.

But – shouldn’t they at least expect to make a living while they pursue their Olympic dreams? And more importantly – shouldn’t they be rewarded for excellence? Some of our greatest past Olympians think so. USA Wrestling recently announced the creation of the Living the Dream Medal Fund. Money from the fund will be used to reward those athletes that take on the best in the world and excel. In the upcoming and all future World Championships, American gold medallists will receive $50,000, a silver medal is worth $25,000 and a bronze gets $15,000. Beginning with the 2012 London games, Olympic champions will get $250,000, silver medallists $50,000 and bronze medallists $25,000. Former Olympic champions John Smith, Dan Gable, Bruce Baumgartner and Brandon Slay and former World Champion Zeke Jones are among the first to contribute to the fund. These great champions of the past obviously care about the champions of the future.

As of July 28th, 170 of America’s most ardent wrestling supporters had joined those greats by donating to the fund. Many of the names on the donor list are familiar – they’re people who contribute to wrestling at every level. You may not recognize all of the donors – but you can be sure of one thing – they love wrestling.

Is your name on the list? If not – why not? Don’t you want to see young freestylers like Jake Varner and Dustin Schlatter stay in the sport for a long time? Heavyweight, Dremiel Byers, has represented the US in Greco-Roman competitions around the world for ten years – winning a World Championship in 2002 and a bronze medal in 2007? Doesn’t he deserve your support? And what about the real pioneers – the women? How can you not want to reward an athlete like Deanna Rix who had to learn the sport by wrestling boys – and twice placed in the Michigan boys high school tournament?

Don’t put this off any longer. If you truly love wrestling, go right now to the Living the Dream website and add your name to an elite list.

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