Wrestling

Tuesday, Feb 12 2013 08:43 PM

Olympic dream in jeopardy for young wrestlers

BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer zewing@bakersfield.com

Steve Varner has spent his life in wrestling -- competing, coaching, raising his son -- and last summer, he reached the pinnacle.

The scene was the Olympic Games in London, where his son, Jake, had just taken on the best in the world and emerged with the most coveted prize in wrestling: An Olympic gold medal.

When Varner woke up Tuesday, he heard the news like everyone else: That dream -- Jake's dream -- is in jeopardy for every other young wrestler in the world.

When the International Olympic Committee recommended Tuesday that wrestling be dropped from its program for the 2020 Games, Steve Varner didn't mince words.

"It was rumored that (wrestling) was going to be one considered (to be dropped)," Varner said. "But actually doing it, with it being one of the founding Olympic sports, running and wrestling? I mean, these people are like rock stars in some countries. The Iranian team landed at the airport and it was like a giant mob scene."

Jake Varner is in Bulgaria for a tournament, and after that, he'll head to Iran himself. He was unavailable for comment, but he did use his Twitter account to voice his concern Tuesday:

"The IOC must be out of their minds! Everyone keep on fighting for this great sport! Not over yet!"

Steve Varner said he has seen other countries' support for wrestling, which made him even more stunned by the IOC's announcement.

"You go around the world, and in some of those countries, Russia, Bulgaria, Iran, the -Stan countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, etc.), and if wrestling isn't the No. 1 sport, it it's No. 2 behind soccer," Varner said. "So this is huge to those countries. I don't know if they're trying to get money from those countries, extort them, or what. But it doesn't make sense, picking on a high-profile sport like wrestling."

Varner said he was so surprised by the decision that he figured the IOC was engaging in back-door dealings.

"To believe they actually thought this was what's best for the Olympics?" he said. "I don't believe that for a second. They had to have an ulterior motive."

The next step in the story will come from St. Petersburg, Russia, where the IOC Executive Committee will convene in May to recommend a sport that could be added back to the program. Wrestling is among seven choices -- and Varner said he believes that the vote is taking place in Russia, where wrestling has always been popular, will help the sport that his son used to fulfill a dream.

"Going into Russia and taking away wrestling," he said, "would be like going into the lions' den and kicking them in the teeth."

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