BRANDON — The International Olympic Committee’s decision to drop wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games sent shock waves through all levels of the sport when it was announced in February.
“It crushed a big part of what I had wanted to accomplish in the future,” said James Flint, senior wrestler at Brandon High School. Flint was one of three Brandon High wrestlers who competed at the FILA Cadet Greco Roman World Championships in Azerbaijan last year.
Less than seven months later, the IOC has voted to reinstate the sport for the 2020 Summer Games, which will take place in Tokyo.
Flint was on a recruiting trip to Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky with Brandon High wrestling coach Russ Cozart when the news broke earlier this month.
“We were watching it on a live feed, and we were all pretty excited,” Flint said.
Cozart — who has won 24 state wrestling championships at Brandon, including the past 13 in a row — was pleased with the decision to reinstate the sport in the 2020 and 2024 Games, but said wrestling has to show it belongs after that.
“Hopefully, this wakes us up and gets wrestling moving in the right direction,” said Cozart, who is in is 34th year at Brandon High and also wrestled internationally for 13 years. “We need to make the sport more dynamic and multi-dimensional. We need people who are looking 50 years down the line.”
In the past, Cozart has been critical of FILA, the governing body for international amateur wrestling, for not properly promoting the sport.
“They’ve tried to promote wrestling in the past, but it’s been more of a vaudeville-type approach,” he said. “We need a 21st century approach to marketing. Wrestling is not going to be as big as some other sports around the world, but it can absolutely be as big as gymnastics and swimming are in the Olympics.”
More specifically, Cozart said amateur wrestling would benefit greatly from having a charismatic leader. He also cites a suggestion from a colleague, who thinks there should be an all-wrestling network similar to the Golf Channel.
“I’m just a little high school coach,” Cozart said. “But it’s obvious we have a lot of fans out there with all this movement and all this activity over the past few months.
“We’ve got a great product that needs to be put out there in the right way.”
Wrestling has been an Olympic staple since its introduction during the ancient games of 708 BC. The sport was also part of the 1896 Olympics in Athens, the first of the modern era.
“I had a feeling the IOC would vote wrestling back in,” said Cozart. “They thought they could cut it and no one would care.
“They found out that the entire world cares.”