Modern pentathlon

Wrestling's Olympic future: now what?

So interesting, indeed, to bear witness to the emotional recoil to the move by the International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board to cut wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games. When you strip that emotion out of it, and look at the cold logic of it, there's a compelling argument to be made in the IOC"s favor.

Not to say they're right. Just to say there is indeed some logic there.

There's also this -- this has nothing to do with being anti-American.

And this -- there's a sound argument to be made about how wrestling gets back onto the 2020 program. Which would also be logical. Though that would be rooted in politics, too, which after all is how wrestling got dropped in the first instance.

To begin:

This is, at one level, a math problem.

The IOC caps participation in the Summer Games at 28 sports.

In London last summer, there were 26. Golf and rugby are added for 2016 and 2020. That makes, obviously, 28.

After London, the rules were that one of the Summer Games sports was going to be dropped to form a "core" of 25. Doing some math here: 25 plus (golf and rugby) = 27.

So, for 2020, you add one to make 28.

That's assuming a big if -- if the IOC, at its all-members session in September in Buenos Aires, so chooses. It could choose to leave the number at 27. The 2020 Games site will also be chosen at that meeting in September; Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo are in the running. The next IOC president, replacing Jacques Rogge, in office since 2001, will also be picked in Buenos Aires. It's a big meeting.

To its credit, the IOC has done a good job in the Winter Games of making the program way more attractive to a younger audience, adding events such as ski and snowboard halfpipe and slopestyle.

For the Summer Games, it has struggled to find a more current formula.

After London, each of the 26 sports was analyzed according to 39 criteria.

For weeks before Tuesday's IOC board meeting it had been clear to insiders that the two sports most at risk were modern pentathlon and wrestling.

As the Associated Press has reported, pentathlon ranked low in general popularity, getting a 5.2 on a scale of 10. It also scored low in TV rankings, with an average of 12.5 million viewers, a maximum of 33.5 million.

The modern pentathlon federation's governing body goes by the acronym UIPM; it has 108 member federations.

Wrestling's international governing body goes by the acronym FILA. It has 177 member federations.

Wrestling scored just below 5 on that 10 scale. It sold 113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available -- at a Games where most events were screaming sellouts.

It ranked low in the TV categories as well, with 58.5 million viewers max and an average of 23 million. Internet hits and press coverage also were ranked as low.

For all of wrestling's claims of "universality," moreover, the sport -- while immensely popular in places such as the United States, Japan, Russia, eastern Europe, former Soviet bloc nations, Turkey and Iran -- doesn't really offer up that many Asian, African or Latin athletes. Which longtime observers such as Harvey Schiller, the former baseball federation president, pointed out, also noting that it simply is "not great TV."

Moreover, the IOC report also observed that FILA has no athletes on its decision-making bodies, no women's commission, no ethics rules for technical officials and no medical official on its executive board.

There's this, too, though the IOC report doesn't mention it: FILA is virtually invisible on Facebook. In the year 2013, that is almost indefensible.

Pentathlon -- given a warning in 2002 -- got with the program, so to speak.

It cut its competition schedule from five days, to four, to one. It instituted the use of laser pistols instead of regular guns. It also played politics, an IOC essential, with UIPM first vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. now sitting on the IOC board.

FILA did virtually nothing.

So why expect a different result?

Even so, the outcry, especially here in the United States, was predictable. Crowds of 18,000 at big-time meets are hardly uncommon. Wrestling, especially in high schools, is a feature of American life. Supporters of the sport felt, in a word, blindsided.

But, again, look at it from the IOC perspective. Not emotionally -- logically. How has the sport grown over the past 10 years?

USA Wrestling is a model federation. That is not the issue.

With the inclusion next year of Grand Canyon University in Arizona, there will be 78 men's Division I wrestling programs.

It has been eight-plus years since women's wrestling arrived on the Olympic program in Athens in 2004. In that time, universities, even big-time programs such as USC. have launched women's varsity programs in sports such as sand volleyball and lacrosse. By contrast, the number of Division I women's wrestling programs: zero.

In the United States, the social media response to Tuesday's announcement sparked, for instance, a Facebook save-wrestling page and an online petition that urged the White House to "please put pressure on [the IOC} to overturn this horrible decision to drop the oldest sport in the world."

With all due respect, and in particular to the 20,051 people who had signed the petition as of Wednesday afternoon California time -- keep in mind that the members of the IOC entertained the president of the United States in Copenhagen in 2009, as he was urging them to vote for Chicago for the Summer Games, and then voted Chicago out in the very first round, as he was flying back home on Air Force One.

Since that very day, the U.S. Olympic Committee, led by chairman Larry Probst and then by chief executive Scott Blackmun as well, has made great strides in doing what FILA should have been doing -- recognizing that Olympic politics is all about relationships.

Again, the IOC move to strike wrestling from the program is not directed at the United States. Want more proof? For all the great American gold-medal victories over the years in the sport -- Rulon Gardner in Sydney in 2000, for instance -- the U.S. won only four medals in 2012, two gold.

The biggest winner in wrestling in London, without question, was Russia, with 11 medals.

Overall, the Russians won 82 medals.

Again, math: wrestlers accounted for 13 percent of Russia's entire medal tally.

That is what is called incentive.

It's why the head of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, was quoted by AP as saying they would use "all of our strength" to keep wrestling on the 2020 program.

The Russians are spending north of $50 billion readying for the Sochi 2014 Winter Games next February. When Vladimir Putin took over again as president of Russia, last May 7, the very first meeting he took that day was with whom? Of all the people and dignitaries in the world?


This is not a difficult triangulation: the Russians could bring a lot of "strength" and relationships to bear -- again, so to speak -- to this. In the sports sphere, this might help accelerate the end of the Cold War; the Americans might well be helpful supporters.

As it turns out, the next IOC board meeting, in late May, is in Russia -- in St. Petersburg. There the IOC board will decide how many sports the full IOC membership will get to consider in September for that 28th spot. Right now, the odds are good the number might well be three.

Wrestling is up against seven other sports, including a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash and others.

Rogge, asked at a news conference Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC's base, whether wrestling had a 2020 life, said, "I cannot look into a crystal ball into the future. We have established a fair process by which the sport that would not be included in the core has a chance to compete with the seven other sports for the slot on the 2020 Games."

As for all the criticism from the United States and elsewhere? Before the London 2012 Games the IOC dealt with the feral British press for seven years. So this, too, shall pass.

"We knew even before the decision was taken," Rogge said, "whatever sport would not be included in the core program would lead to criticism from the supporters of that sport."

Rogge's final months -- and what's next

SEOUL -- Jacques Rogge has been president of the International Olympic Committee for nearly 12 years. He has held hundreds, if not thousands, of news conferences and briefings. He presided over another one Friday at a downtown hotel as the rain came down hard and cold here in Seoul, reporters and camera crews shaking off the water like poodles after a walk, and then came the usual breathless questioning from some of the local reporters met by the president's calm and measured responses, a scene from a real-life movie that has played out before many, many times.

It was odd in its way to think that this set piece will soon be coming to an end. But these are indeed the final months of Rogge's presidency; he steps down at the IOC session in Argentina in September. There the IOC will choose his successor.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge at Friday's Seoul news conference // photo courtesy Korea Herald

And while there wasn't any breaking news Friday -- there typically isn't at a standard-issue IOC press conference, only clues to what's really going on -- what was plainly and powerfully evident is that this year, 2013, holds the potential to re-shape the Olympic movement in far-reaching ways.

At issue are fundamental philosophies about where the IOC has been, is now and is going amid three decisive reckonings: what sports will be included at the Summer Games, what city will play host to the Games in 2020 and who will be the next president.

Given the way the IOC presidency works -- an eight-year term followed by another, shorter term of four more years -- the vote for Rogge's successor is essentially a once-in-a-generation event. Already in 2013, it frames the backdrop to most everything of significance happening in Olympic circles, even if subtly.

In two weeks, the IOC executive board, meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, will review the 26 sports that appeared on the London 2012 program, charged with cutting one to get to a "core" of 25.

Then -- as the year goes on, and even trying to describe the process is complicated -- it's possible the IOC will add sports. Or not.

Baseball and softball, for instance, which are trying to get back in as one entity, not two, will learn whether the basics of interpersonal dynamics ultimately will prove more potent than the merits of either sport.

Everyone knows it can sometimes be incredibly hard to admit you made a mistake, if indeed you did. Would an IOC that under Rogge's watch kicked both out be tempted now to double back and say, oh, we get it -- now we are going to let them back in?

As the February executive board meeting approaches, meanwhile, rumors have been increasingly fevered about which of the 26 sports might be the one left out.

Track and field, swimming and sailing -- Rogge competed in the Games as a sailor -- would seem to have nothing to worry about.

That said, modern pentathlon has been fighting to keep its place for years. It sparked a huge debate that consumed the IOC session in Mexico City in 2002. Now? The sport has undertaken a series of initiatives to make it easier to follow. Yet any realist can see that while the IOC is trying to reach out to a younger audience, and there are taekwondo gyms on seemingly every other block with little kids running around in their colored belts, a modern pentathlon enthusiast with a gun, a sword, a horse, a swimsuit and a pair of running shoes would be hard-pressed indeed to find a place to practice all its pieces.

Meanwhile, in September, the IOC will choose Madrid, Istanbul or Tokyo to be its 2020 Summer Games site. The process ramps up next month with visits by an evaluation commission to all three.

Which leads, in a circular way perhaps but inevitably, to the presidential campaign.

When Rogge took office, in July 2001, the IOC was still feeling its way after the Salt Lake City corruption scandal. The key element in a 50-point reform plan, passed in December 1999, bans the roughly 100 members from visiting cities bidding for the Games.

Rogge has been a vocal proponent for that rule. It seems to have prevented a recurrence of what happened in Salt Lake -- where bidders showered the members with inducements -- from happening elsewhere.

On the other hand, there's also the argument that rule fundamentally says to the members, many of whom are important personalities in their own countries: we don't trust you.

The way the process works now is that the evaluation commission undertakes four-day visits to each city and then produces a report. The full IOC meets a few months before the vote to go over the report and hear from the bid cities. Then they get together again a few months later, for the vote itself. The members vote after having the report available to read (which some don't), watching videos (maybe, if they're interesting) and taking in the presentations from the bid cities.

This for a process that costs hundreds of millions of dollars and is worth billions to the winning city and nation.

With great power comes great responsibility, goes the saying. Certainly the IOC wields enormous power. But does the bid city process -- as it is now -- assign to the members meaningful responsibility?

Thomas Bach of Germany is widely considered the leading presidential candidate. Ser Miang Ng of Singapore might well prove a strong challenger. And Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico has shown business skills to help keep the IOC strong in the global economic downturn.

The smart candidate, if he were to be moving around the world, meeting with other IOC members, listening to their observations, would surely hear some number of them say perhaps the time has come to look anew at the way things work. A lot of time has passed. No one is going back to Salt Lake City anytime soon.

Pyeongchang was selected the 2018 Winter Games host in 2011. Intriguingly, Rogge saw the place with his own eyes for the very first time this week. Simply put, there is no substitute for seeing something yourself.

Rogge said of Pyeongchang, "I had of course seen it in the bid book," adding, "When you see it in reality, you have another view. It is state of the art."

Which is what the IOC, of course, aspires to be.


American, Cuban make sports history -- together

SINGAPORE -- Fate threw them together. Together they made sports history.

They bridged 90 miles, 50 years and a raft of political complexities, two teenagers, both 18 years old, one American, the other Cuban.

In the mixed relay event that wrapped up the modern pentathlon competition at these first-ever Youth Olympic Games, Cuban Leydi Laura Moya Lopez and American Nathan Schrimsher competed together as a team. Two nations, one entry on the start sheet.

After a long day of fencing, swimming, running and shooting, they finished 16th of 24.

No one cared.

Just competing together was all that mattered -- their appearance, according to current and former senior U.S. Olympic Committee staff, believed to be the first time an American and Cuban had paired up as sports buddies in an Olympic-style event in decades.

"It was normal," she said. "In competition, all is beautiful."

He said, "She doesn't speak much if any English. I don't speak any Spanish. But we got along really well; we were high-fiving, giving each other hugs, encouraging each other. We both do pentathlon so we both speak pentathlon and understand each other -- our pains and groans and aches. So we were able to help each other."

Over the years that Fidel Castro has been in charge on the island nation, Cubans and Americans have of course competed against each other many, many times at untold number of events.  And some Cuban athletes -- think Major League Baseball -- have made it to the States to compete with Americans in professional sports.

But an American and a Cuban together, as teammates, on the Olympic scene -- that was believed to be a first.

It made for a study in the very essence of sport -- and a reminder that while sport hardly offers a direct path to world peace there are moments when sport can offer a dialogue and a path that virtually nothing else can.

The pairing in pentathlon, as it would turn out, came on the very same day that a Saudi Arabian girl, Dalma Rushdi H Malhas, the first Saudi female ever to compete at an Olympic event, won bronze in the individual equestrian event.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, on hand at the Singapore Sports School to watch the swim portion of the pentathlon, said, "Sure, sport is an instrument of change."

He cautioned, "We should not overload sport with potential that it does not have. Sport alone will not bring peace. Sport alone will not keep peace. It can contribute to other efforts -- by politicians, by public opinion, by non-governmental organizations -- to create a peaceful planet. We are participating in that effort."

These first-ever Youth Games now seem destined to be remembered for such sentiments, in part because the IOC and the international sports federations gambled on experiments such as mixed relays.

Some sports featured mixed events in which boys and girls competed together but still for their own country. The swim meet here, for instance, saw mixed 400-meter freestyle and medley relays; China won both.

Other sports mixed not only boys and girls but nations.

In archery, for example, the mixed event saw a girl from Spain and a boy from Bangladesh paired up. They finished fourth.

'It was fascinating," said Yasaman Shirian, a 17-year-old archer from Iran who teamed up with Ibrahim Sabry of Egypt in the team event. They finished 17th. She said, "It didn't matter whether you came first or last because you were enjoying being with another person. The best part is making good friends with people from other countries."

Track and field mixed it up by continents -- and, in a further quirk, by distance.

So, for instance, the line-up for the Americas boys' relay team looked like this: Brazilian Caio Dos Santos running first, for 100 meters; Jamaican Odane Skeen, the individual 100 gold-medalist, running the next leg in the relay, which was 200 meters; Najee Glass, a 16-year-old from Woodbridge, N.J., running the third leg, which was 300 meters; and, finally, Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic running the anchor leg, 400 meters. The Americas boys won handily -- and, to the relief of anyone who has seen a USA relay in recent years, Najee handled the baton smoothly.

Gilbert Felli, the senior IOC official who oversees the delivery of Olympic events, said in an interview with the Young Reporters program -- another Youth Games initiative, with more than two dozen aspiring journalists from around the world -- that the mixing and matching was highly unlikely to make its way into the traditional Summer Games program.

For one, he suggested, such mixed events can help the Youth Games achieve its own identity.

For another, he said, the competitive and commercial pressures of chasing a medal at the traditional Games are all but sure to prove far too intense to allow for such experimentation at the Summer Olympics.

"We have to look at the Youth Olympics as a special event," he said. "It is not a mini-Olympics."

The mixed fencing competition here last week split the Americas teams into two.

Americas 1, made up of four Americans and two Canadians, took bronze.

Americas 2 finished seventh of eight. That team included a Canadian, Argentinian, Brazilian, Salvadoran and finally, 17-year-old Redys Hanners Prades Rosabal of Cuba and Mona Shaito of the United States, a 16-year-old from Garland, Texas.

"I thought about it," Mona said. "I thought, wow. This is really weird, how nobody from the U.S. is allowed in Cuba, and here we are competing with somebody we're not allowed to get into their country with. It was amazing."

The pentathlon competition Tuesday took USA-Cuba one step further -- to a genuine partnership.

Nathan, who is from Roswell, N.M., was thrown together with Leydi by chance; their names were picked out of a glass bowl in a draw made Sunday evening.

Because she had won the individual gold, some had thought before the mixed event Tuesday that they might be medal contenders.

But no -- as she would acknowledged later, she was so tired from winning the individual event that she didn't have much left.

"The competition was good," she said. "Sports are sports. If I had to compete with the United States, I was happy about it."

He said, "Competing with Cuba was amazing. I don't know all the politics and everything. I know there's a lot of tension. Competing with her -- there wasn't any problem. We're just pentathletes. We're people, too. We enjoy what we do and had a blast doing it."

A gesture lifts South Korea

SINGAPORE -- Sometimes the smallest gesture tells you an awful lot about the essence of a person. Kim Dae Beom, who is 18 years old, had just won the boys' modern pentathlon here Sunday at the Singapore Sports School. He had made history. South Korea had never before won a pentathlon medal of any color at an Olympic event. Now, at these first-ever Youth Games, Dae Beom had just won gold.

It would have been all too easy for Dae Beom to make the moment all about him. It might even have been understandable.

Instead, in his moment of glory, Dae Beom had the presence to make it about something much more. A "precious opportunity," he had called the competition itself, and now he was about to make the most of another.

In so doing he would honor himself, his county and the sport itself. In taking one small step he made real the Olympic emphasis on excellence, friendship and respect.

They climbed onto the medals stand, Dae Beom along with runner-up Ilya Shugarov of Russia and third place-finisher Jorge Camacho of Mexico. Sir Philip Craven, along with Klaus Schormann, president of the modern pentathlon federation, appeared to hand out the medals. Sir Philip, president of the International Paralympic Committee, gets around in a wheelchair.

Dae Beom is only 5-foot-6; he was the shortest of the 24 competitors in Sunday's competition. Nonetheless, from the wheelchair to the top of the podium was something of a reach for Sir Philip.

Sensing that it might make Sir Philip slightly uncomfortable to have to reach up that far, wanting to honor Sir Philip even as Sir Philip was about to honor him, Dae Beom stepped down and off the podium, back onto the track.

There he positioned himself next to Sir Philip's chair, within easy reach.

And Sir Philip gently placed the gold medal around Dae Beom's neck.

Dae Beom declined to say anything later about the class and grace he displayed by the podium with Sir Philip. Again, the emphasis was elsewhere. "I am very happy to let people know about this sport," he said, adding, "Because not many people in Korea know about this sport."

Traditionally, pentathlon has been a European affair.

The sport combines five Olympic disciplines -- fencing, swimming, equestrian, running and shooting. It is has been part of the Summer Games program since 1912 in Stockholm; in those Olympics, an American army lieutenant, George Patton, would finish fifth.

The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, created the modern pentathlon. The idea is to replicate -- after a fashion -- the story of a soldier delivering a message. He has to ride an unfamiliar horse. He has to fight a duel. He is trapped but shoots his way out with a pistol. He swims a river. He completes the job by running a long distance through the woods.

Anyway, that's the idea.

After the Sydney Games, it wasn't clear that such an idea still had enough juice to carry on in the Olympic program. In 2002, in fact, pentathlon almost got the boot. Schormann, though, promised change, and the International Olympic Committee issued pentathlon a reprieve.

Two years ago, the pentathlon federation combined the running and shooting disciplines into one event. These Youth Games in Singapore saw the introduction of a further change -- the familiar air pistols were replaced with laser pistols.

"It's the way of the future," Prince Albert of Monaco, the federation's honorary president and an IOC member, said after watching the girls' event Saturday, won by Leydi Laura Moya Lopez  of Cuba.

The Koreans, Schormann asserted, have "always been my driving forces" to implement such changes. "The Europeans have always been complaining," he said. "The Koreans, Chinese and Japanese were forces for change."

If the Korean pentathlon record at the Summer Games has been oh-for-every-one-of-their-Olympics, the Korean record over the past two years at junior events hints at something very different soon enough, perhaps as soon as London and the 2012 Games.

Three of the top four at the 2009 junior worlds -- Korean boys. The winner of the 2009 junior world team event -- South Korea.

Two of the top three at the 2009 version of what in pentathlon circles is called the Youth A world championships, an event for 17- and 18-year-olds -- Korean.

At the 2010 Youth World A event, in June in Sweden, the Koreans won the team title; in the individual competition, Dae Beom won bronze.

And now, at the Youth Games, gold.

At the Youth Games, as at the youth world events, there is no equestrian portion -- meaning the pentathlon was something of a quadrathlon.

Dae Beom was seventh after the fencing portion. He moved into medal contention after finishing with the third-best time in the 200-meter swim.

As the run-and-shoot got underway, pentathlon experts were mostly watching Han Jiahao of China, the gold medalist at the 2010 Youth World A's. Jiahao's nickname is "King Kong," because, as he explains in a brief biography on the modern pentathlon website, "I think I resemble it."

Not this time. Jiahao faltered during the run-and-shoot. The laser pistols got him.

"I only [learned] about the usage of laser pistols when I came here," to Singapore, Jiahao said later, and a pause here to consider what the reception back home in China might be like for whoever it was that oversees -- perhaps now it's oversaw -- Jiahao's presentation.

How is it he or she or they, whatever, didn't know lasers were going to be used for the first time in pentathlon's 98-year history when everyone else knew?

Jiahao said, "I brought my own air pistols from China only to be informed that we are using laser pistols instead for the modern pentathlon."

Jiahao finished 11th overall.

Dae Beom, meanwhile, came on strong and steady during the run-and-shoot. After crossing the finish line, he staggered a few steps to the mixed zone, where athletes mingle with reporters. There, he collapsed to the track.

He got up a few moments later and said, "I didn't dream of this. It's a gift from heaven."