The U.S. Olympic wrestling trials begin Thursday in Las Vegas. It's the perfect location because so much of the chatter surrounding the event is focused on pushing the ancient sport to sexy, combative extremes.
"People aren't trying to pin each other anymore," said Jason Townsend, who is promoting a new style -- "Grappling" -- for USA Wrestling, the sport's national governing body. "They're trying to choke each other, arm-bar, leg-lock and get their opponent to say, 'Uncle.' How long can you hold out before you tap out?'"
You "tap out" before turning blue, feeling your knee burst or your arm snap.
Welcome to 21st-century international wrestling, and -- perhaps -- the future of Olympic wrestling. Buffeted by a perfect storm of marketing and cultural vectors striking Olympic sports, wrestling -- arguably the most traditional of all -- can be traced back thousands of years, when, Townsend said, "wherever people were, whether they were in a tree, they were wrestling. People have evolved with wrestling."
Freestyle, which is similar to high school and college wrestling, and Greco-Roman, in which no holds or actions are permitted below the waist, remain the classic Olympic styles and are on the Beijing program. But that almost certainly won't be the case 20, 10 or perhaps even five years from now.
"There is a school of thought among traditionalists that our sport will exist in its current form forever," USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said. "But even those within that traditionalist community would have to admit our sport has changed. We have to keep our eyes wide-open."
The International Olympic Committee has made it known it seeks to modernize its sports to better attract young audiences. Consider the advent of BMX cycling in Beijing this summer, or snowboarding in the Winter Games.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have exploded onto the sports scene recently, giving rise to the new wrestling style, Grappling, which was approved by FILA, the international wrestling federation, in 2006. Link