Wrestling With The Truth
Wrestling is to be chucked out of the Olympics. Richard Lutz remembers his high school career of grappling on the mat.
I was a nine stone strongman. Each year in late November in high school, I would abandon, more or less, studying (not difficult) and head for the gym until late March.
I was on a school wrestling team, in the lightweight divisions. Wrestling practice each day, matches twice a week, fighting continually with my weight as my body wanted to grow and the scales demanded that I keep within restriction. Taking off a couple of vital ounces in a sweat room the night before weigh in.
I wrestled at 98 lbs as a kid, 106lb, then, finally, at 123lb. I was thin as a rake, growing taller and geared to win.
Wrestling, for my American high school years, was my life. And though I was a mediocre to fair member of the squad (I won a minor medal in championships) I loved the sport. As did my brother who, younger than me, was a rising star as he landed on the team.
To me, it was the ultimate sport. You faced some other guy, your own weight, and tried to pin him to the mat for the requisite 5 seconds. Points were scored for near pins, take downs, time in control and reversals. We practiced leverage moves, power moves and spins based on torque.
And you talked technical moves with great names: guillotines, reverse switches, grapevines, half nelsons and stackups.
Ever since then, every four years since my forgettable career ‘on the the floor’, I would take in the Olympics and the wrestling- kings of the sport were hard headed boys from the Mid East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
But now it seems the sport is not welcome anymore after 120 odd years as an integral part of the Games.
It is a loss. Wrestling, with the personal one-on-one affairs, its rule of law as laid down by three periods of three minutes each, the psychology of eyeing up your opponent as you waited for your match, the sheer impact of trying to beat someone else and being part of a team that depended on each other for a day’s victory, plus the roar or groan of a crowd, was, to me, the pulse of life during my teenaged years.
I was young, convinced I would win every match (well, that didn’t happen) and tasted both the nectar of victory and the agony of defeat (some of them, by the way, agonising).
I learned I was OK at something, but not a demi god. That belonged to some very talented team mates who seemed to have won matches before they even entered the arena. One dominated the 156lb weight class was such a tough guy he emerged 20 years later as a Mafia lawyer. Now, that’s tough.
At the end of a season, our high school team would march to the league championships, all anticipation, linament and sweat. Then, the apex of the season: to the regionals where all types of fearful teams east of the Mississippi would gather.
And at these regionals, I would see something I never thought I would experience. I would see our own super heroes get pinned. And then that victor get pinned and then that winner get obliterated 12-0 on points and then THAT winner get nailed to the floor in something like 45 seconds. There was no end to the talent as small guys, tall guys, muscleheads, lithe snakey guys emerged from forgettable schools to grab a medal.
Maybe they went on those American scholarships in bigtime wrestling universities such as Lehigh, Iowa or Ohio State- all feeding grounds for the Olympics where, they too, would probably get slammed by some superhero from Bulgaria, Georgia or Iran.
Now those Olympic contests have been consigned to history and memory. Kind of like my high school career.