LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Karam Mohamed Gaber Ebrahim of Egypt celebrates winning his Men's Greco-Roman 84 kg Wrestling Semi Final against Damian Janikowski of Poland on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 6, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
In the past three days, we learned a great deal about both the domestic and international state of Greco-Roman wrestling.
Domestically, we learned that the U.S. is not one of the world's elite Greco powers, it isn't even close. The United States was not able to place a single one of its Greco wrestlers in the top five, a feat accomplished by more than twenty other nations. While expecting the U.S. to be the top Greco nation in the world is unrealistic, it is reasonable to expect the American Greco team to at least be competitive with the world's top ten teams.
Internationally, it is clear that the current iteration of FILA's rules has turned Greco into a mind-numbingly boring affair. If Greco wants to survive as an Olympic sport, new rules need to be formulated to encourage more offense, and thus greater viewership
After the jump, suggestions on the improvement of Greco wrestling in the United States and worldwide,
The State of Worldwide Greco-Roman Wrestling
The past three days of Greco competition were so boring as to be hard on me, a wrestling obsessive, that I imagine that they were nigh un-watchable from a casual viewership perspective.
Greco does not have to be boring, in fact, when Greco is wide open and high scoring, it is wrestling's most visually appealing style. It is FILA's current Greco rule set which actually encourages low scores and stalling from participants.
Currently, Greco bouts are decided on a best two out of three, two minute-period basis. If a wrestler scores more than his opponent in each of the first two periods, the match is over. If a period is scoreless at the end of a minute and a half, the whistle is blown, and the wrestlers are compelled to assume the "ordered hold".
The "ordered hold" is par terre position where the top wrestler starts with his choice of lock applied to the bottom wrestler. The top wrestler needs to score in the remaining thirty seconds of the period ,or else, the bottom wrestler wins the period..
The theory behind the "ordered hold" is that it would result in a large number of visuallly appealing high amplitude throws. This worked, at first, but now elite wrestlers have become so good at defending from the hold that the bottom wrestler seems to win as often as the top wrestler.
The ordered hold used as a tie-breaker renders offense from the feet irrelevant. Wrestlers can, and do, win gold medals by simply stalling from their feet, and availing themselves of their superiority in wrestling from the "ordered hold" position. In the last three days, at least three Russians won a medal while lying on their bellies. If a sport provides this kind of reward for lying on one's belly, then something is wrong with this sport.
The "ordered hold" which was meant to punish negative wrestling, has, ironically, guaranteed negative wrestling; it now needs to be disposed of.
In its stead, I have a simple solution to incentivize offensive Greco wrestling. Matches where the first two periods end without score should be stopped and a winner will be determined by the three officials based. The standard of judgement should be which wrestler attempted the most intelligible scoring attempts.
Of course, the judges will make a countless number of terrible decisions, many influenced by politics and curruption. That is the necessary price. I guarantee the result will be almost all combatants wrestling with a desperation to prevent the match from being left to the whims of the judges. Point scoring would almost assuredly increase, and the sport will improve; most the time at least, the aggressor would be rewarded over the staller in scoreless matches.
Matches where points are scored, and which end in a tie, can be decided by allowing both wrestlers thirty seconds a piece on top, in the ordered hold. Each of these one-minute cycles would continue until one wrestler scored more points, in which case he would be named the winner. This will prolong some matches, but at least it will prolong matches where the wrestlers are scoring points.
The State of USA Greco
It was brought to my attention that we should not be terribly surprised at the U.S.' s horrible performance in Greco. I was hesitant to accept this point of view at first, but, ultimately, it is the right way to look at matters. It has been three years since an American Greco wrestler has medaled at a world championship, five years since a top ten team finish at a world championship, and the only US Greco medal in Beijing was a surprise bronze from Adam Wheeler, who then promptly retired.
The saddest part of the US Greco performance in London is that we, as fans, should have expected it. We shouldn't have come into these games anticipating a medal. We just haven't been that good for a while.
I don't understand our Greco program's specific problems, and how they are hamstringing the success of our athletes, but there is no question that problems are present. United States Greco should be expected to at least keep pace with the Frances and Japans of the world, but these countries are enjoying demonstrably greater success in their talent development. Our results in London mandate a serious change in direction.
What should this new direction look like? In my mind, the easiest way to achieve success is to emulate the methods of others who have achieved success. Iran, currently, claims the best (or second best at worst) Greco wrestling program in the world right now, and less than a decade ago, their Greco program was suffering results very similar to those currently endured by the U.S.
I am not sure what the Iranians did to rise from irrelevancy to the best in the world, but my guess is that it started with the right leadership and proceeded with a systematic and measured approach. U.S. Greco ought to find out how Iran managed to ascend to the top of the Greco world, and follow the same path. The first step is finding someone with the vision necessary to see this path, and then go from there.
This is not to say that people ought to lose their jobs, I find calling for firings to be unsavory. What I am calling for is, instead, the hiring of new talent. U.S. Greco should acquire someone with an intimate familiarity with the workings of Iran's program, Greco-Roman wrestling's greatest success story.
Greco-Roman wrestling, both in America, and in the world as a whole, is in a pretty sorry state. These Olympics games have shown us just how desperately changes need to be made. Hopefully, smart decisions made right now can right the ship. I hope that someday Greco-Roman wrestling can actualize its potential as an exciting and crowd- pleasing sport. Even more than that, I hope that the future brings improved Greco Success from the red, white, and blue.