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Oklahoma Wrestling Community Grapples With Prospect Of Losing Sport In The Olympics

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U.S. wrestler and former Cowboy Coleman Scott competed in the 2012 London Games. U.S. wrestler and former Cowboy Coleman Scott competed in the 2012 London Games.

When the news came down last week that wrestling will be eliminated from the Olympics, Yukon wrestler Boo Lewallen said he felt a sense of loss.

"It makes me feel horrible," Lewallen said. "It's been my goal since I was a little kid to wrestle in the 2020 Olympics. It would be pretty bad if it gets shut out."

Lewallen is only a sophomore but he's already on his climb to the top. As a freshman he was a class 6A state runner-up and also became a 2012 NHSCA National Champion in Virginia Beach.

Lewallen is one of many Oklahoma high school wrestlers who say they are worried they will never have the chance to compete in the Olympics. Last Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee Executive board sent shockwaves through the wrestling community and around the world when it announced its decision to cut wrestling from its list of core sports. It voted to keep the modern pentathlon – an event considered to be most at risk – instead of one of the Games' oldest sports.

While not down for the count, wrestling will now have to compete with eight other "short-listed" sports -- including baseball/softball – in trying to convince the board it should be included in the 2020 Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A meeting will take place in St. Petersburg, Russia, this May where the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) will make its presentation to the board.

Young wrestlers like Lewallen hope 2016 is not the last time wrestling appears in the Olympics.

"I'm not happy about it," Colton Looper, a Perry High School wrestler, said. "With wrestling there isn't a professional level, past the NCAA championships, like golf you can go pro with it, with wrestling there's nothing else to strive for."

Following the announcement, local leaders in the wrestling world spoke out. Oklahoma State coach and two-time Olympic gold medalist John Smith said he's prepared to fight.

"To any young kid who hears there's not going to be wrestling in the Olympics, keep fighting," Smith said. "Keep working. Keep training. I'm going to fight for you. There's only one option with this decision and that's to get it overturned. I'm going to live every day to make a difference in that final decision."

High school coaches across the state join Smith in saying they are ready to do what it takes to keep the dreams of their young wrestlers alive.

"It is the biggest mistake I've probably ever heard of," Perry High School coach Ronnie Delk said. "As a wrestling coach and high school coach it just disgusts me that they would allow that. Even consider that."

Anadarko coach John Holten agreed.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "I don't think most people in the wrestling community will just sit quietly. We're going to do whatever we can to keep it in there."

Delk said the news was hard to share with a group of young wrestlers he coaches.

"I have a sixth grade group of kids that I coach, I told them about it yesterday and they're kids dreaming of being an Olympic wrestler, and it just crushed them that it's going to be gone," he said.

Wrestling, one of the oldest Olympic sports dating back to 708 B.C., is widely represented with 71 nations competing in the 2012 Games. There were 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman in London.

Women's wrestling will also get cut. That event was added in 2004. Oklahoma City University is the only school in the state to offer women's wrestling.

"I've got six wanting to go to the 2020 Games because they're young," coach Archie Randall said. "The average age for a medalist in wrestlers is 25 to 33. So my girls are 19 to 22 so now they're just getting to the age where they can compete at that level."

The idea of the Olympic Games without wrestling brings uncertainty to those who compete and dedicate much of their lives to it. For athletes, it's a destination that gives them drive and purpose in their everyday training routine. In the wrestling world, the Olympics are the pinnacle of competition.

OCU women's wrestler Joey Miller is from Woodward and has grown up wrestling. She hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics and if it's dropped from the 2020 Games she says her little sister may not have the opportunity to chase her own dream.

With the emergence of women's wrestling, she says she was shocked by the news.

"It caught me off guard, and I didn't know what to think at first, and the more I thought about it the more upset I was," she said.

A final decision is expected to come down in September. If it's eliminated, the 2020 Games will be the first Olympics, with an exception in the 1900 Paris Games, that wrestling will not be an event in either of the Ancient and Modern Games.

But it will not go down without a fight.

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