“It’s one of those things where your first thoughts are pretty bad,” Brands said. “There’s nothing more sacred to living than learning to overcome struggle. Wrestling is that equivalent, more than any other form of sport, recreation or entertainment. It’s worse than death because you can’t control death, and this is something that maybe we can control or could have controlled. We need to look forward to May and the process in September.”
Reaction to the move was swift on social media. A Facebook page titled “Save Olympic Wrestling” was started Tuesday morning and had nearly 5,000 members by noon. A number of fellow Olympians also displayed their displeasure over the decision on Twitter by using the hashtag (hash)SaveOlympicWrestling.
Wrestling can be tough for the average Olympics fan to follow, which is why it rarely earns a TV slot in prime time. Its scoring system can seem complicated and arcane to newcomers. The medal stand is often dominated by athletes who aren’t nearly as marketable as gymnasts and swimmers.
Still, it produces memorable characters like Karelin, the prolifically strong three-time Olympic champion and hero in his native Russia. There are also American icons like Sanderson and Gardner, who beat Karelin and later survived both a plane crash and frostbite.
“It just seems like wrestling, if we don’t fight we’re going to die,” Gardner said. “At this point, it’s time for everybody to man up and support the program.”
Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP