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Wrestling's self-inflicted demise, more mailbag

Photo: John W. McDonough/SI

The unwillingness of wrestling to become a more fan-friendly sport helped lead to its Olympic demise.

A few questions as we open the Olympics mailbag ...

FILA (the international governing body for wrestling) clearly was outmaneuvered by the other federations when the IOC singled out the sport for possible exclusion from the Olympic program, beginning in 2020. It assumed that there was no risk, despite rumors that the sport was in consideration for removal from the Games. There are some who are saying this is a sideways slap at the USA. Is there any truth to that, or is that just U.S. wrestling whining? And if the drop stays, does that lead to the end of wrestling as an NCAA sport?-- Ken Fiint, Roanoke, Va.

Both domestic and international wrestling representatives have admitted they are not especially skilled at playing the political games other sports play for recognition, funding and so on. There is a sense in the wrestling community that the integrity of the sport is enough to keep its place on the Olympic docket. They certainly underestimated the rumblings that the sport had not done enough to modernize itself or try to become more viewer- and spectator-friendly, especially in Greco-Roman matches. The de facto response from wrestling officials is that nobody from outside the sport should alter the soul of the sport. Who is a non-wrestling official to say what is and isn't appealing to watch?

Unfortunately, the edict for wrestling is, in essence, a universal edict in an age when X Games sports are being welcomed into the fold. And while a sport such as golf has four major tournaments that players would rather win before they'd want an Olympic gold medal, it is also more marketable than wrestling. Golf doesn't represent the X Games generation, but it does have potential to increase revenue and exposure for the Games, and those considerations are part of the new Olympic reality.

It's unclear if dropping wrestling would constitute a slap at just the U.S. The sport is largely run by Europeans, although one of the world's strongest men's wrestling powers is Iran. The top women's team is Japan. As far as the NCAA, I doubt that wrestling would be out at that level. Think of all the sports that are sanctioned by the NCAA but are not on the Olympic program. In deference to Title IX, I would guess you could see programs flourishing in women's wrestling in the coming years.

With golf being re-introduced to the Olympics in Rio, a couple of questions popped into my head. First, coaches, trainers, support people need not be of the same nationality as the athlete, correct? Jurgen Klinsmann coaching the U.S. soccer team comes to mind as an example. However, team/pair events require both athletes to be from the same country.

What about golf caddies? One can say that they are support people, like coaches. However, some are more involved with the golfer than others. They read putts with the golfer, suggest shots and clubs, and supply distances and wind conditions amongst other things. Shouldn't caddies be considered part of the "team" and therefore be of the same nationality? There are multi-national pairings of golfers and caddies, so how much would that affect their game.

Second, drug testing. My understanding is that for a sport's inclusion into the Olympics a drug-testing program of some sort must be in place. From what I know, golf has no testing program of any sort. I guess that testing would go through the auspices of the national Olympic committee but I don't know for sure.

At first blush, PED's and golf seems like an oxymoron. Why would they need/require them and what benefit would they get? But PEDs assist in recovery and aid stamina, so it wouldn't surprise me if there were such use in golf.

Will there be testing of eligible golfers prior to the games and when does it start?

-- Tom Nagel, Victoria, BC, Canada

Unless a new rule is enacted to change matters in a sport that is new to the Olympic program -- possible, but unlikely -- golf caddies are not considered active athletes and therefore would not have to be from the same country as the golfers. Coaches have always been eligible to train athletes from countries other than their own. Think of Bela Karolyi, for instance, using his powers of Romanian persuasion, to will gymnast Mary Lou Retton into a perfect vault in 1984. One of the more famous confrontations in the decathlon took place at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, where U.S. champ Rafer Johnson edged his Taiwanese rival C.K. Yang to win gold. Both Johnson and Yang trained together at UCLA under Ducky Drake, who was coaching both men at the Olympics, even giving each one strategic tips as to how he might beat the other. Figure skating coaches often come from countries not represented by their athletes. South Korea's Kim Yu-na won the ladies title in Vancouver while training with Canada's Brian Orser as her coach.

As for doping restrictions, yes, golfers will be subject to testing at some point. Golfers, like other athletes, will be subject to the procedures and codes set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Fijian native Vijay Singh said recently that he took IGF-1, a growth substance that would constitute a doping offense were he subject to testing now. None of the relevant governing bodies -- the IOC, WADA, PGA or LPGA -- has said when golfers will be required to submit to out-of-competition testing, but they certainly will in the same way that eligible NBA and NHL players have to make themselves available for the testing pool at a certain period before each Olympics.

Why can't we see the Olympics live on TV? Didn't there used to be live coverage?-- Ben Franks, Erie, Pa.

Here in the U.S., the Olympics have generally been televised live only when they have been held in a time zone that is favorable to U.S. viewers. Olympics that were held in Los Angeles, Calgary, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Vancouver generally received a fair amount of live coverage in prime time. Otherwise, most of the events usually appeared on tape delay during evening hours. Granted, the Internet, Twitter and more varied forms of social media has made it almost impossible for viewers to watch without knowing the results ahead of time, but that hasn't always been the case. Many people forget that the famous Miracle on Ice hockey game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which was presented "plausibly live" at 8 p.m. in the East, was carried on a three-hour delay by ABC. Schedule-makers had arranged for two medal-round games in the evening, including the top-ranked team from one division against the second-ranked from the other division at the Olympic Ice Center at 5 p.m. Nobody knew ahead of time which two teams would play in that game. The network could have made an 11th-hour push to swap those games, so the Finns and Swedes could have faced off at 5 p.m. with the second game at 8:00. Instead, viewers tuned in to watch anchor Jim McKay previewing and building drama for what he already knew was a historic contest. In the background of McKay's set was a live scene of celebrating fans spilling onto the streets of Lake Placid, chanting and waving American flags. It would not have been hard to put two and two together, yet many viewers didn't know the outcome. In fact, most of the Games' coverage has historically taken place on tape.

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