The International Olympic Committee recognizes wrestling as "the world's oldest competitive sport." As such, it comes as no surprise that wrestling history dates all the way back to the ancient Olympic Games. According to the IOC, the sport was first included in the ancient Olympic Games in 708 B.C. In fact, during the ancient Olympic Games, wrestling was an important part of the pentathlon.
Wrestling at the Modern Olympic Games
Because of the historical significance of the sport, wrestling became one of the most important attractions at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. That year, there were no weight classes, and the rules used loosely resembled the Greco-Roman rules of today. Only five men competed, and the winner was German Carl Schumann, who also went on to win horse jumping and parallel bars, according to the FILA website.
The 1900 Olympic Games were the only Games in history that did not include wrestling as part of the Olympic program. Wrestling reappeared in 1904, this time in the form of freestyle wrestling. By 1908, both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling were included in the Olympic Games, and at least one discipline would be included in every Olympic Games after. Beginning in 1920, both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling have been included on every Olympic program.
Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling in the Modern Era
The number of events and weight classes in each discipline fluctuated throughout the years, and by 1972, there were 10 Greco-Roman and 10 freestyle weight classes for men. That number remained the same until 2000, when the number of weight classes in each discipline was cut from 10 to eight. Four years later, another weight class was cut, leaving men with seven Greco-Roman and seven freestyle weight classes at the Olympic Games.
The same year, women's freestyle wrestling was added to the Olympic program. Four women's weight classes were contested in 2004, and that number has remained unchanged in each Olympic Games since. The first women's Olympic gold-medal winner was Irini Merlini of Ukraine, who wrestled at the 48-kilogram weight class.
Wrestling at the 2012 Olympic Games
The wrestling competitions are again expected to be a big part of the Olympic Games in London. In total, 344 athletes are scheduled compete in the ExCeL venue for 18 gold medals. The competition is scheduled to begin on Aug. 5, 2012 and end on Aug. 12, 2012.
Sandra Johnson is a longtime Olympic fan. While working for the United States Olympic Committee and living in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Johnson had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46