The United States was once dominant in both wrestling and boxing. Though the sports aren't the most popular in the Olympic line-up, John Smith and Bruce Baumgartner were wrestlers who everyone knew, and boxers like Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones and Sugar Ray Leonard went on to elite professional careers. In these Olympics, on the other hand, the U.S. won one boxing medal, and three in wrestling. This is not an aberration, as the medal counts in these two sports have been dropping for the past three Olympics.
The biggest issue that needs to be addressed for both sports is a how to find healthier way to manage weight. Boxer Gary Russell Jr. and wrestler Daniel Cormier both had to drop out of the Olympics because they fell ill while cutting weight, and weight-cutting affected the performance of those athletes who did manage to compete. Granted, much of the onus of weight management lies in the hands of the athlete, but the USOC would be wise to adopt weight-management standards. Athletes should not be cutting ten pounds the day before competition, and those who try to wait until the last minute should be penalized.
Though the Sporting Blog makes a compelling case for the elimination of boxing from the Olympic docket, it is scheduled to be a sport in 2012, and the U.S. needs to improve their lot. Their one-year training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was clearly a failure. With weight-cutting problems, an athlete not listening to his coach and losing because of it, and one medal despite a strong team, head coach Dan Campbell needs to return to the drawing board or be replaced. After his divisive training methods that included taking boxers away from their coaches, the boxing community needs to be united behind USA Boxing, or the best boxers will forego the Olympics and head straight to a professional career. That could be disastrous for the U.S.
It would be easy to say that the U.S. needs more experience in wrestling, except that the three medal-winners were very inexperienced, and the two returning Olympians had a dismal games. What the U.S. needs more of is a devotion both from the athletes and USA Wrestling. Currently, most elite athletes coach at the college level. This is a good way for them to earn a living while having plenty of training time, however, they are training college wrestlers in folkstyle, not Greco-Roman or freestyle, the styles wrestled at the Olympics. Kevin Jackson points out that the payments to national team members are not enough for a person with a family. Henry Cejudo, a 21-year-old, can afford to live and train full time at the Olympic Training Center. For Doug Schwab, who recently became a husband and a father, that's not as feasible. With MMA giving many wrestlers a lucrative way to continue competing, USA Wrestling needs to commit to keeping the best athletes on the mat and out of the octagon.
For both sports, it comes down to commitment and money. Will the USOC commit to bring these sports back to their prior prominence? That's a decision that they will have to make. No matter their decision, proponents of these sports need to be vocal -- with their mouths and their wallets -- that four medals out of these two sports is just not enough.
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