Brent Metcalf played a role in the worldwide wrestling community’s latest sign of unity.
The former University of Iowa two-time NCAA champion stood among political and wrestling leaders, coaches and wrestlers from the United States and Iran for pictures, demonstrating their alliance to fight for the sport’s future.
The photo opportunity with the wrestling and political rivals came at after the exciting conclusion of the 2013 World Cup men’s freestyle tournament, which remains one of the year’s top competition and determines the world’s best team, last week in Tehran, Iran. The event also included meetings between international wrestling officials to show solidarity after a recent announcement that the International Olympic Committee recommended to remove wrestling as a core sport, beginning in 2020.
Last week’s event showed wrestlers are willing to rally together to promote the sport that debuted around 700 BC and has been a staple of the Olympic Games. They understand the impact the announcement has on everyone’s aspiration.
“It’s a big deal,” said Metcalf, who went 4-1 for the U.S. squad that placed third with its only loss to eventual champion Iran. “You can sympathize with each other. There is more of a camaraderie between competitors and their countries.”
The cause has created a stronger bond between those in the wrestling community. Wrestlers own a mutual respect for others, because of the dedication and sacrifice required to reach elite levels. They face the same opponent, fighting for their Olympic dreams.
“Now, we’ve all lost the same thing,” Metcalf said. “For instance, you lose somebody in your life. Now, it’s all of our lives and we all lost the same person in our life, so we can all feel for one another. That’s how big of a deal the Olympic Games are.”
Metcalf added, “They all have the same goal as what a lot of people in the United States are doing, which is let’s get together and try to make a movement to show the IOC how important the sport of wrestling is to the world and Olympic stage.”
Wrestling proved it can bridge gaps between countries with political issues. The sport can elevate above diplomatic conflict.
“When we got here, they had their arms wide open to our wrestling program, and to Americans” U.S. men’s freestyle coach Zeke Jones said in a video interview with CNN, “because they realized that it’s a better world with us together.”
Fans attended the World Cup in droves, showing their love for the sport and even cheering for the U.S. team at times. Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was among the spectators and posed with the two countries’ teams.
The IOC decision with met with disappointment and anger from many, including in United States, especially in Iowa where wrestling is woven into the social fabric. The response was even larger in other countries that view wrestling as a premiere sport.
“The reaction was pretty big in the United States, so you can multiply that many times over there because of how much bigger of a deal it is to them,” Metcalf said. “Iran’s President was at the tournament watching. That’s how big of a deal the sport of wrestling is to them.”
Metcalf said the wrestling community needs to have an optimistic approach. It is the appropriate attitude to have and pessimism will only hinder the effort. The biggest gains might be made through politics, economics and the fight off the mat.
Wrestlers face a dual role, however, balancing their training and personal goals with championing the sport through promotion.
“As a wrestler, I think you put it in the back of your mind, because I’m still worrying about getting ready to compete in April for the U.S. Open, the next World Championships and the next Olympic Games, which I will for sure be able to compete in if I put myself in the position for 2016,” Metcalf said. “I think coaches and athletes are part of it for sure, but there are a lot of people outside the athletes that are part of the movement.”
Metcalf embraces the necessary ambassador role. He admits his attention has to be on his goals first, and then contribute to the campaign in any possible way.
“It’s got to be the immediate focus,” Metcalf said about the U.S. Open and 2013 World Championships. “For me, it has to be because it’s what I can control, and outside of that, whatever effort I can give to help the movement I’m there for it.”
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