The Olympic does everything the same: first, second, and third.
Or, gold, silver, and bronze. That’s probably easier, or more fitting.
On the weekend, Tokyo was named host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics, beating out Turkey (silver) and Madrid (bronze). Like the real medals, the other two were on the podium, but nobody remembers who they are. Still, it’s fun to be included, right? They can cheer you on and acknowledge your candidacy was at least a real thing.
But last weekend’s decisions didn’t stop there. On Sunday, the IOC also reinstated wrestling, as traditional a sport as there can be at the Summer Olympics, just in time for Rio’s 2016 bash.
With 49 votes, wrestling smashed the joint effort from softball/baseball (24 votes) and squash (22).
Neither sport made the grade, and neither will be represented in Rio.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Mike Renney, head softball coach at SFU. “The Olympics is a pinnacle stage, so everyone wants to be on that stage.”
Softball – like wrestling and virtually every other Olympic sport – is a tight-knit community. Rivals know each other from afar. Faces pop up continually. South Surrey hosts the third-largest fastpitch championship in the world every year – the Canadian Open – and Canada is a fixture as one of the sport’s top five nations in the world.
A win for softball is a win for everybody.
“It’s at the highest level, and ironically their politics are, as well,” said Rennie, who added that wrestling was done a major disservice when the IOC voted to kick it out the Games just months prior.
“We just got caught in a political tug of war,” he said. “It anything, wrestling’s an iconic Olympic sport… if it came down to it, I would have probably voted for wrestling, too.”
Softball launched its bid in partnership with baseball, although the alliance came with both high risk and high reward. Not only does baseball already have the World Series and its own man-made international championship – the World Baseball Classic – but Major League Baseball has not been willing to postpone or halt its season, meaning superstars in the Bigs won’t get to be Olympians.
On the diamond, there’s despair.
But, on the mats, the news couldn’t be better for Simon Fraser University’s athletic staff and its wrestling coach, Mike Jones.
Jones says softball and squash were dogged by a voting process that pitted also-rans against a sport like wrestling, which has been a part of the Olympics since the Games first existed.
“It was pretty much a slam-dunk that wrestling had to go back in, it was one of the core sports all along,” Jones said. “It just kills softball and squash – they at least deserved a chance at being in it.”
After the IOC wrestling out of the Olympics in February, the sport’s ruing body FILA began to look inward on itself and began to reform.
(Olympic officials told FILA the sport lacked leadership and failed to entertain spectators, who were either bored or didn’t understand the rules or the scoring.)
“They were arrogant,” said Jones, on wrestling’s governing body. “The whole process has actually forced the international body to look at everything and tried to clean up some thing, for example make it more gender-equitable.
“It’s an old boys club and those kinds of things are hard to crack… but, we need to keep moving forward.”
All three sports made presentations to the IOC, and wrestling’s showcase was strengthened by the presence of two Canadian gold medalists – both SFU grads – in Daniel Igali (Sydney, 2000) and Carol Huynh (Beijing, 2008).
Softball and squash can still vie for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the 2024 Olympics, the location of which has yet to be determined.
“Softball BC is naturally disappointed our sport was not chosen by the IOC delegates, but we remain excited at the opportunities still ahead for our sport here in B.C.,” said Rick Benson, COO of the BC Amateur Softball Association, in a statement.
In the release, Softball B.C. also congratulated wrestling for its inclusion in the 2016 Games, and said it was excited about both men’s softball being included in the Canada Summer Games, as well as Surrey’s bid to host the 2016 World Fastpitch Championship at Softball City.