William Hershey

COLUMBUS: The thinnest of threads connects my career as a high school wrestler in Michigan to the wrestling career of Jim Jordan, the Ohio congressman from Champaign County.

The political thread connecting Jordan, a very conservative Republican, to Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a liberal Democrat, may be even thinner, but we’ll examine that in a minute.

Those threads, spun together, should help the International Olympic Committee reconsider a recommendation to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic Games, starting in 2020.

My wrestling career peaked when a two-time state champion pinned me in 53 seconds. I wasn’t wrestling for a state title. To the surprise of me and my teammates, I had won my first match in an early season invitational tournament and drew the defending state champ in the second round.

My coach, full of encouragement, said something like: “ … he (my opponent) puts his shoes on the same way you do.” The match did not last long enough for me to get a good look at his shoes.

Jordan, meanwhile, won four Ohio state championships in high school and had a career record of 150-1. Then he was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion for the University of Wisconsin.

Our contrasting experiences help make the case for keeping wrestling in the Olympics, where it has been since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. The Greeks made wrestling part of their ancient Olympic Games, too.

The Olympic creed says:

“The most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.”

That overstates things a little. Triumph always trumps defeat, from backyard competition to world championships.

Wrestling, however, like no other sport, rewards both excellence and perseverance. The victory is important but the fight is a victory itself to the less gifted.

The sport is divided into weight classes. Talented athletes like Jordan, if they’re as dedicated as he was, have the opportunity to excel against opponents their own size. No seven-footer dunks over a short guard on the wrestling mat.

For the rest of us, wrestling offers different rewards. At my high school, only the quitters got cut. If you could stand the grueling, sweaty practices, you stayed on the team. If you lost the pounds necessary to make weight, you even got in a match or two.

Jordan is doing all he can to keep wrestling part of the Olympics. He is on the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling which includes Dan Gable, the college and Olympic champion who also was the all-time winningest wrestling coach at the University of Iowa, a powerhouse in the sport.

“I think all sports are good when you have good coaches who teach the right kind of values,” Jordan told me. “But there is something special about wrestling. Because you have weight categories, it gives kids with marginal ability the opportunity to actually excel … I just fell in love with the sport when I was young.”

In Congress, Brown is a key ally. They agree on saying the Pledge of Allegiance and not much else. Jordan embraced Tea Party values before there was a Tea Party.

Brown’s proud to be compared to liberal icons like the late Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio.

On wrestling, they’re a tag team.

“When you think of the Olympics, you think of running, jumping and wrestling,” Brown told me. “That’s kind of to me what the Olympics is … No matter what your size you can wrestle.”

It’s an important sport in Ohio, both for high schools and colleges, said Brown. Removing the sport from the Olympics could have a negative trickle-down effect, he said.

The Senate recently passed a resolution introduced by Brown urging the International Olympic Committee to reconsider its recommendation to eliminate wrestling from the games. Jordan has introduced a companion resolution in the House.

The IOC’s executive board in February made the recommendation to eliminate wrestling as one of the core sports from the 2020 games.

The executive board meets again in May in St. Petersburg, Russia. At that meeting, wrestling will compete with seven other sports for a recommendation for a provisional spot on the 2020 program. The other sports competing for the single provisional opening, according to ESPN, are: combined baseball-softball bid; karate; squash; roller sports; sports climbing, wakeboarding and wushu, a martial art.

A final decision on wrestling’s fate for 2020, will come when the full IOC meets in September in Buenos Aires.

Brown, unlike Jordan, did not wrestle in high school. He played basketball and would not concede that his practices for putting the ball through the hoop were any less grueling than those for the mat rats. Brown did know some wrestlers.

“I never got in a fight with any of them,” the senator said.

Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for the Beacon Journal. He also was the Columbus bureau chief of the Dayton Daily News. He can be reached at hershey_william@hotmail.com.