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Decision to drop wrestling from Olympics leaves many in area surprised

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FARGO - Every summer for the last 18 years, thousands of youth wrestlers flocked to the Fargodome for the USA Wrestling Junior and Cadet national tournaments. The immediate goal was to be an All-American. The long-term goal?

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You would be hard-pressed to find the kid not wanting to be an Olympic champion.

"I think it's every young wrestler's goal," said North Dakota State head wrestling coach Roger Kish, who won both USA Greco-Roman and freestyle national titles as a kid. "That's the pinnacle of our sport."

But that quest was dealt a blow this week when the International Olympic Committee dropped wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games. The decision is not considered final, but it is clear the sport has some work to do.

"I'm shocked to hear that," said former NDSU head coach Bucky Maughan, the local director for the USA Wrestling tourneys since they came to Fargo in 1992. "I thought there would be at least rumors about it. I don't think anybody expected this to come, that's for sure."

The USA tournaments expose youth wrestlers to international Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, which differs from the common folkstyle used by high schools and colleges in the United States. Without the Olympics, former Bison standout and 1988 Olympian John Morgan thinks the USA tourney could face some tough hurdles.

As a post-collegiate wrestler, Morgan said his annual goal was the World Championships. It just so happened every fourth year wrestlers were training for an Olympic medal.

But it could be different for kids out there. After all, the United States, he said, is the only country in the world that uses folkstyle.

"USA Wrestling made a big deal out of the Junior and Cadet to give kids something to strive for, an avenue to shoot for," said Morgan, now living in Colorado. "What's the reason now for Fargo? Why not change it to folkstyle. The Olympic Games is why we wrestle Greco and freestyle. It could have an impact after a while."

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that wrestling did not make the final Olympic cut, which also includes women's wrestling that was added in 2004. The AP in its reporting said it was "extremely unlikely" wrestling would be voted back in since it was just voted out by the IOC executive board.

The IOC did retain modern pentathlon, which the AP said was the sport most likely to be dropped at the meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Morgan said he wasn't totally surprised by the move, saying wrestling in recent years has gotten away from being a purist sport and tried to broaden the appeal - perhaps to attract more advertising dollars.

"They moved to all these different rules to try and make the sport spectator friendly, and I didn't agree with that direction," he said. "They tried to implement women's wrestling and reduce men's weight classes, and that doesn't appeal to the wrestling purist. I don't think it was a good strategic move."

Morgan took seventh in his class in the '88 Games. His brother, Gordy Morgan, was on the 1996 Olympic team.

Kish said it's a disappointing day for the sport, but he also sees wrestling leaders doing something about it.

"Wrestling is a close-knit group of people," he said. "I see lot of folks coming together and doing everything they can."

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

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