Wrestling with hunger

Image via Flickr

After the announcement last month that wrestling is to be removed from the summer Olympic program following the year 2020 by the International Olympic Committee, Bulgaria’s national wrestling team coach, Armen Nazaryan, has begun a hunger strike.

The IOC reviewed all 26 sports from the Olympic program and decided to keep the pentathlon — which was facing the most risk — over wrestling; which includes both freestyle and Greco-Roman categories.

This is sad news for wrestlers across the world. Wrestling was one of the original Olympic sports established for the inaugural modern Olympics, which took place in Athens back in 1896. To say the least, it has been around for a long time.

With over 110 years of Olympic attention, perhaps the committee felt the game had lived out its glory. Out with the old and in with the new?

As a matter of fact, yes. With wrestling now out of the picture, an opening slot for a new sport is available in the program which will be up for discussion and selected later this year by the IOC.

“This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics,” said IOC spokesperson Mark Adams.

“In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It’s not a case of what’s wrong with wrestling. It is what’s right with the 25 core sports.”

Although I see where the board is coming from, it looks as though Bulgarian wrestling coach Nazaryan would beg to differ. Bulgaria’s wrestling federation said on Sunday that Nazaryan “will not eat until the start of the European Championship on March 22 in Tbilisi, Georgia, and will only take juices.”

The 39-year-old has won Olympic gold in wrestling for his native Armenia in 1996 and Bulgaria in 2000 and is now is head coach for Bulgaria’s Greco-Roman wrestling team. Bulgaria, which has brought home a total of 16 gold medals in wrestling, will be losing the chance to compete for more of what has become a national sport.

Unfortunately for us, not only is Bulgaria going to be affected by this removal, but Canada as well.

Just last summer in London at the 2012 Olympics Canada brought home silver and bronze medals in the sport from athletes Carol Huynh, who previously won gold in Beijing in 2008, and Tonya Verbeek, a three time winner who has won two silvers and a bronze in her career.

Between 1908 and 2012 Canada has won a total of 16 medals in the freestyle category of wrestling, most recently won by women. Not exactly our strongest suit, but still a competitive field in which Canadian athletes have flourished.

Nazaryan’s hunger strike for wrestling is a strong statement. It shows his passion and willingness to support the sport he loves and to have it continue as an Olympic one at his own risk.

I truly hope his action is seen and heard by the IOC and taken into consideration. After all, wrestling is one of the original sports, why take it out now? Just because something is old doesn’t mean it isn’t worth anything.

The issue has made headlines and the IOC seems to be set on their decision, but it isn’t 2020 yet. There is still time. Perhaps Nazaryan’s hunger strike will grab the IOC’s attention, change its plans of removing it from the program and giving society an idea why it is in fact an Olympic-worthy sport.


Concordia wrestler Olympic-bound

After qualifying for the Olympics last week at a tournament in Orlando, 24-year-old David Tremblay from the Concordia Stingers wrestling team is getting ready to head to London and represent his country. The first-time Olympian has lofty expectations for himself this summer. He sat down with The Concordian for an interview.

David Tremblay won an Olympic qualifying tournament in Orlando and will now head to the 2012 Olympics. Photo by Rita Davidson

What are you most excited about heading to the Olympics?
I’m not sure. I think it’s just going to be an overall great experience. I’m looking forward to the opening and closing ceremonies. I talked to some past Olympians and they said the ceremonies were a great part of going to the games. And just the fact I’m going to a tournament that only comes once every four years where you have to qualify against the best of the best is great.

When in your life did you really believe and think one day you could be in the Olympics?
When I was really young, around 15, I wanted to go without knowing how to really get there. You win your first national title at a young age, people are asking you if you want to go to the Olympics and you say “yeah, of course I do,” without knowing how hard it is to make it there. Then when you get older you realize it’s not as easy as you think. You hope you can make it, but it’s still a long way away. I moved to Montreal after high school thinking I could make it to the 2008 Olympics before even realizing how far I was from that. I had to re-analyze my goals and focus on 2012.

How do you expect to do in London?
Obviously everyone wants to go for the gold, that’s the best outcome. I just want to go out there and perform my best. Last summer I beat some of the top guys in the world so, if I can perform well, I know I can [compete for a medal]. A medal [in London] would be great and I’m a real competitor so I’m not planning on going to the games and losing.

Are you nervous about the games?
I’m not nervous. I’m just excited. I want to get back to training and preparing and just get ready for London.

Who has been the most help in your career?
I’d have to say definitely my dad. My dad’s the one who brought me into the sport and he was pretty strict on me in high school in order to achieve my goals, but he did a really good job of being a coach and also a father. He wasn’t too much of one or the other.

How did you get started in the sport?
It was my dad — he was a high school wrestling coach in Ontario. I was into all the sports in grade school and he asked me if I wanted to try wrestling and I said “I don’t know, I don’t really know anything about wrestling.” So he took me into the living room and showed me a couple techniques. Then he put me in a high school tournament which I won and I just started liking it from there.

Will your family be coming to London to watch?
I think some of them are going to come, but the games aren’t cheap. I think it’s $500 just to watch me wrestle one day. We’re going to do some fundraising to hopefully help with the cost, but my immediate family will probably be coming.


Golden weekend for Concordia men’s wrestling

For the second consecutive year, the Concordia wrestling team will be returning home from the CIS national championship with some serious hardware.

The men won the team championship in Thunder Bay, Ont. over the weekend, narrowly edging out University of Regina, 56 points to 54, bringing home five medals in total.

It was a nail biting finish to the tournament. With Regina wrestler Gaelan Malloy wrestling in the 62 kg gold medal match, Malloy injured his ankle early and his coach eventually threw in the towel, not wishing to risk his wrestler’s health.

If Malloy had gone on to win his match, Regina and Concordia would have each had 56 points, with Regina holding the tie-breaker of most gold medals (3-2).

“I don’t think (Malloy) was going to win anyways, he was going against a better wrestler,” said Concordia’s assistant coach David Zilberman. “That’s part of competition. Things happen.”

Concordia came into the year with high expectations, but was aware of how quickly things can go awry.

“We came in with an open mind,” said Zilberman. “We have to expect the worst because anything can happen, but just being prepared is the most important thing.”

Several Concordia wrestlers, both men and women, brought home medals.

The women finished ninth out of 13 in the team standings, but still had athletes reach the podium.

Nikita Chicoine had the best finish among the Stinger women, winning a silver medal in the 63 kg weight category. Linda Morais won bronze in the 59 kg weight class and her teammate Veronica Keefe also came away with the bronze medal in the 72 kg category.

Things were golden on the men’s side. David Tremblay and James Mancini both found themselves standing on the top of the podium in the 61 kg and 65 kg categories, respectively.

Scott Schiller won silver for the Stingers and left his coaches very impressed with his effort.

“He was wrestling two weight classes up,” said Zilberman. “He was much smaller than his opponents and still managed to beat the number one seeded wrestler in the first round.”

First-year wrestler Nariman Irankhah won a bronze medal in the 82 kg class and Greg Rossy also came in third in his weight class.

The Concordia men were close to winning even more than an astonishing five medals, with two wrestlers, Noel Tremblay and Mitchell Krauter, finishing just off the podium in fourth place of their respective categories.

Head coach Victor Zilberman was also named coach of the year.


Wrestling time between school and sports

A great athlete and an even better scholar. Concordia wrestler Michael Noonan, 24, was awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University next fall where he will be studying zoology as a graduate student.

Wrestler Michael Noonan balances time between training, competing and studying to accomplish his goals. Photo by Concordia University

Noonan recently sat down for a conversation with The Concordian to talk about the upcoming season, his future and some of the stereotypes surrounding athletes.


What was the first thing you did when you found out you won the scholarship?

I screamed, I was pretty excited. I was in the car with a bunch of friends so we all cheered and I went home right away and told my parents and they were pretty ecstatic.

What are you most looking forward to at Oxford?

Obviously the education will be great, but just living on campus at one of the best universities in the world will be amazing. It will be a different country, more European, and I’m just excited for the whole lifestyle of being on campus and in a new country.

So what will you be working on primarily when you go to Oxford?

I’m going to be working within the zoology department on the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. It’s a research crew that does research on endangered species.

Do you have a thesis or anything specific in mind yet that you want to achieve?

I have a thesis in mind but it still has to get accepted. But I would like to work on studying fish passage at dams.

Has it been a challenge to balance school and athletics?

Yeah, for sure. We train twice a day, once during the day and once at night so that doesn’t leave much time in between for classes and homework. I actually had to take a reduced course load and finish university a year later to fit it all in.

Some athletes struggle academically, what advice would you give them?

There’s certain times when you can focus on your sports and your social life and there’s also times when you really need to sit down and focus on your academics. Exam period for example is a time when you really need to set your priorities on school.

Have you ever had to deal with the perception or stereotype that athletes are just “dumb jocks?”

Yeah I have. Even the guys on the team, we don’t talk about school or grades or anything so this really surprised a lot of them. It’s definitely a stereotype that’s out there, but once I start to talk to people they sort of realize it’s not that true.

Do you think it is a fair stereotype, whether or not it applies to you?

Definitely not. Some of the most intelligent people I know are athletes. One guy from our team is actually at Brown University writing a textbook now. We have engineers and a lot of very smart people on our team.


Do you think it will be more difficult to focus on wrestling this year knowing what lies ahead?

Yes, I think it will be because in the past you had this huge future ahead of you whereas now I’m limited to just this one year before my career here is over, so it’s going to be tough. On top of that I recently had ACL surgery so dealing with that on top of it will be difficult.

What are some of you goals for the season?

Well, first things first is to get back into the season. Because of the surgery I need to push myself hard to compete again. Then I really want to win nationals.

Because it’s your last year do you think this season will have maybe a sense of urgency that wasn’t there in the past?

Not urgency, but it is very different. I look at it with more of a sense of calm and knowing. When you’re young you kind of have this fear of all the guys being older than you. Now, though, I’m sitting here near the end and I’ve sort of seen it all. I’ve seen things come and go and I think that I can deal with whatever happens better than a lot of other people can.

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