The U.S. national wrestling practiced at Hamilton Gymnasium and met with members of the Harvard-Westlake wrestling team on Friday, May 17. The national team was preparing for an international exhibition the following day at the Los Angeles Convention Center with the Iranian national wrestling team. Though a dispute between team officials prevented the Iranian national team from making the trip to Los Angeles for either event, wrestling program head Gary Bairos was very happy the American team still met with students in Hamilton.
“It went really well,” Bairos said. “In terms of the event for us here, it was awesome. They came in and it was a really intimate little event. They drilled, wrestled, signed some autographs and it was really amazing. The kids were genuinely excited and that’s who it was for.”
Since the International Olympic Committee voted in February to discontinue wrestling from organized Olympic competition after the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, various national teams around the world have been fighting to have the sport added back to the Olympic program by the 2020 Olympics. The IOC does not believe that the sport is viewer friendly for a television audience, and the wrestling community is desperately trying to spur enough fan support to have the sport added again.
The American national team invited the Iranian team to an exhibition in New York and Los Angeles as part of the attempt to generate fan support. Bairos, who wrestled at Arizona State with U.S. national team coach Zeke Jones, contacted Jones about having the two teams practice at Harvard-Westlake before the official exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Despite growing tension in the Persian Gulf between the American government and Iranian government over nuclear proliferation, the school agreed to host both the American and Iranian team.
However, after participating in the exhibition in New York, the Iranian national team was ordered to fly home to Tehran instead of participating in the second half of the American tour. The Russian and Canadian national teams were invited last-minute and participated in the official exhibition in Los Angeles instead. Bairos said that although their respective governments may not have the greatest relationship, their respective national teams have very good relations with each other.
“It wasn’t really a wrestling decision, it was a government decision,” he said. “USA Wrestling is going to invite them back, so we’ll see what happens.”
Bairos thanked the school for allowing him to use its facilities to host the event as it helped generate excitement for students within the school program and generate national attention for the sport.
“It’s a real character-building sport,” he said. “You can’t really excel until you’ve lost and so you’re always battling adversity. When you’re brushing up with adversity and your fears every day, you’re going to get somewhere.”