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Olympic decision undercuts tradition


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Back in the day when gas was 40 cents a gallon, a guy named Ed Banach and I went out on separate dates on a Saturday night with sisters, Teresa and Barbara.

Ed and I both were high school wrestlers, although at different high schools. He was seriously invested in the sport. I was having fun.

That night, Teresa and I stopped by her house in upstate New York about 10 p.m. Barbara was home by herself.

“Where is Ed?” we asked.

“He had to lift weights,” she said and then chuckled.

That was Ed Banach. Work, work, work. I wanted none of it. Oh, I worked pretty darn hard.

But Ed, and his brother, Lou, were mad men. Every waking hour, and probably in their dreams, they were wired to become better wrestlers. I didn’t want to sacrifice my childhood for a sport. They did.

Ed and Lou, who were twin brothers, combined for five NCAA championships at the University of Iowa and also won Olympic gold medals in wrestling in 1984.

To me, that kind of anonymous ambition is what made, and what always will make, the Olympics amazing and special.

Unbelievable and exhausting sacrifice to achieve something beyond our comprehension. The Olympic Games. Tingles all over your body when the national anthem plays. The triumph of human spirit.

Both Ed and Lou Banach achieved their dreams and went forward with successful careers. Chances are, though, you’ve never heard of them unless you live in Iowa or Port Jervis, N.Y., where they attended high school. That’s OK, because the Olympic payoff came in the heart, not the wallet.

An Olympic gold medal was about individual achievement, not about riches and rewards. It is what made the journey hard to comprehend. Why would an athlete spend years toiling away for a chance to stand on top of a podium for three minutes?

That was the Olympics as I knew it. No longer.

Now the Olympics Games have turned into a game show.

When the International Olympic Committee decided Tuesday to drop wrestling from the Olympics, they basically turned away from everything the Games used to represent. And why? For television ratings and money.

Welcome to the new world order.

Instead of being introduced to fascinating stories of athletes such as the Banachs, we will be getting another stop on the PGA Tour. Or another week of the NBA. For goodness sakes, it shouldn’t be long before football joins the five-ring circus.

Pingpong probably will be safe as an Olympic sport because the general public can buy autographed paddles. There’s money to be made.

I have nothing against the fantastic athletes who put in incredible amounts of work to become professional basketball players or golfers or hockey players. But let’s face facts. Every child in this country knows that if he or she obtains the highest level in basketball or baseball or football, there is a certain corresponding financial windfall.

That is not the case in amateur wrestling, where the biggest payday would be the front of a Wheaties box, for one person. Maybe.

If there was a payoff at the end of the tunnel, I might have joined Ed in the weight room. But there wasn’t. What he was doing I thought was crazy.

That’s why I watched his Olympic gold medal match at home on television and cheered. I knew what he sacrificed. He was one of a kind, or two, if you count his brother.

The gutting of the Olympics’ integrity has scarred an event that I once cherished.

Will I watch the Olympics next time around? If they follow through with this unconscionable termination of wrestling, maybe not.

The whole thing is sinking into the beach volleyball sand. It’s just not the same.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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