“In America, we have such an amazing wrestling program. Wrestling is in its biggest popularity right now. So these kids with these dreams of winning a gold medal have been taken away from them. We have so many kids in wrestling right now…Here we are twiddling our thumbs on whether we can have an Olympic gold medalist again.
“Wrestling will survive, and wrestlers will go to the World Championships every year, but not having the Olympics is a big void. That’s going to affect whether kids decide to go on to compete in college or not.”
Respected wrestling official and South Florida resident Rick Tucci couldn’t agree more. The Pembroke Pines resident has officiated seven Olympic Games. I would have been eight, if Team USA hadn’t boycotted in Moscow in 1980. Sitting on many boards and representing the sport, his contributions have led to inductions in the Broward Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame, National Junior College Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“Wrestling was in the original Olympic games back in the ancient days,” Tucci said. “It was from the modern Olympics in 1896, and it’s been in every Olympics. To take this sport and eliminate it, when there have been so many people over the years, where this is their one thing in their country that they’ve done and gotten a medal...There are some countries where the only teams they send to the Olympics are the wrestlers.
“If you saw the recent opening ceremonies, Mongolia participated in the Olympic games. That’s it and nothing else...So you are affecting a lot of countries whose claim to fame is wrestling. It’s a shock. It’s like somebody died. You try to think if there was any warning sign.
“The only warning sign, if you want to call it that, a lot of people were unhappy with some of the rules for Greco-Roman [wrestling]. But to eliminate women’s wrestling, which is probably one of the most advanced numbers of participants in the world today along with freestyle, it’s ridiculous.”
Much like Angle, Tucci looks at politics playing a factor in the IOC recommending wrestling over maybe Pentathlon, which was introduced by Pierre de Coubertin more than a century ago. It’s a hybrid of five sports featuring shooting, fencing, a 200-meter freestyle swim, show jumping and a 3,000-meter cross-country run.
“If you look at the governing body or IOC executive board, I’m not sure as I haven’t looked at it that close, but I know there are monarchs, some are kings and ruling members of their country.
“Their involvement in athletics, especially wrestling, is very limited. I don’t know if it was pushed by somebody. I don’t know if it was a personal thing. I hope it wasn’t, but I’ve done seven Olympics and have some younger guys who are coming into their own, and they are good for three or four Olympics. Some of these guys, when you try out for a sport and participate, you want to be the best.
“The goal for the athlete is to be in the Olympic Games and be a gold medalist. It’s to referee at the Olympic Games. If plans go through, they won’t have these dreams anymore. It will be like 1980 all over again where we are all dressed up with nowhere to go.”
Tucci, 68, has seen and heard the backlash from throughout the world. His phone has been ringing off the hook.