Losing Olympic Wrestling Hurts Iowa City

By Mike Hlas, Reporter

Members of the US Olympic Wrestling Team take the stage at the conclusion of the US. Olympic Wrestling Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday, April 22, 2012. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Grant Burkhardt

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Last April, the four sessions of the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in Iowa City's Carver-Hawkeye Arena had a total of 54,766 fans.

That easily eclipsed any previous attendance for the Trials at any other site. So did the atmosphere and presentation. People came from all over the country, and you didn't hear a soul say anything negative about the event.

In fact, you did hear a lot of non-Iowans say they would be fine coming back to the same site for the same event in 2016.

Next year, Iowa City-Coralville will be begin putting together its bid for the event. But even if it gets it, it could be two-and-done. Because Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee announced it was dropping wrestling from the 2020 Summer Olympics, although it will vie with seven other sports not currently in the Olympics to be the one selected in September for inclusion in 2020. Which is a long shot, no matter how much wrestling people vow to fight to plead their case.

Josh Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Tuesday that the vision was for Iowa City-Coralville to host more than one, or two Olympic Trials.

"We did everything we could for 2012 to create an event to build the template and have people never think of holding it at another site," Schamberger said. "We want it here every four years."

It never occurred to Schamberger, or most others with any sort of wrestling connection, that the IOC would drop the sport.

Luke Eustice, an NCAA runner-up for the University of Iowa's wrestling team in 2002, is an advisor (read that to mean jack-of-all-trades) for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, which exists to train and financially help wrestlers pursue careers in international wrestling. He groped to find the meaning in what the IOC announced.

"For me, it's not really final yet," Eustice said. "There's still another opportunity to let one more sport back in. Until it's final, it's hard for me to talk about it, if that makes sense.

We're still going for 2016. We'll always have a Hawkeye Wrestling Club and I think we'll always have wrestling. The biggest thing I worry about is some colleges might say 'Why do we have wrestling if it's not an Olympic sport.' It's frustrating now, very frustrating. It's scary for everyone involved.

"It's a political game people are playing with other peoples' dreams."

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