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Canadian wrestlers Tonya Verbeek, Jessie MacDonald shocked by Olympic snub
By DAN DAKIN, QMI Agency


Rreigning 51kg world champion and Canadian wrestler Jessie MacDonald. (BOB TYMCZYSZYN/QMI Agency)


ST. CATHARINES, ONT. - NOTE: We streamed a conversation with world champion wrestler Jessie MacDonald live Tuesday afternoon. The video of that interview is below.


Live video by Ustream

Tonya Verbeek didn't quite understand the text from a friend she received early Tuesday morning.

Wrestling out of the Olympics? Couldn't be.

But as she started reading the online news stories, the legendary Canadian wrestler who has won three Olympic medals and was one of the most compelling stories of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, found out the news was true.


“It was definitely a shock. It's just a hard day,” said Verbeek, who trains out of Brock University under former Olympian Marty Calder. “There had been no warning signs as far as we were concerned. As a coach and an athlete, we knew nothing about this.”

Earlier Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board made the surprise recommendation to drop the wrestling starting with the 2020 Olympic Games.

Contested in the first modern Olympics in 1896 and also part of the ancient Games in Olympia, wrestling will now join seven other candidate sports battling for one spot in a revamped programme.

“It was a decision to look at the core sports, what works best for the Olympic games,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “This was the best programme for the 2020 Olympics. This is not about what’s wrong with wrestling but what is good for the Games.”

For Verbeek, Calder and everyone else in the Brock-based wrestling program, including reigning 51kg world champion Jessie MacDonald, it's a huge disappointment.

“I think of the young kids the most and their dreams. That's so important,” said Verbeek.

The next two Olympics were on the radar for MacDonald, a four-time national champion born in Windsor but now living and working in St. Catharines.

“I've been hoping for 2016. That's what I've had my eye on so I still have that to look forward to,” she said. “I still have that as a safe spot, but I just can't even believe it consider the amount of time and hours people have put into this sport.”

Like many in the sport, MacDonald trains between two and three times a day while still working a full-time job.

“To tell someone who has been aspiring to get to the Olympics that all that work has been thrown away, you can just imagine how that would make people feel,” she said.

The Executive Board vote comes as a major surprise after other sports, including modern pentathlon and taekwondo, were seen at risk of losing out their place due to their lower global appeal.

Board members were given a report on each of the Olympic sports which provided details on 39 criteria such as popularity, finances, tickets sold and governance, before a secret vote.

“There were different rounds of voting necessary to come to this conclusion,” said IOC Vice President Thomas Bach. “It is an extremely difficult decision to take.”

While pentathlon and taekwondo have the support of senior IOC members, wrestling is not strongly represented in the IOC’s decision-making body.

IOC sources told Reuters that in the secret ballot there were four sports battling to avoid the cut: field hockey, modern pentathlon, taekwondo and wrestling.

Wrestling joins baseball and softball, making a joint bid, martial arts karate and wushu, rollersports, wakeboarding, squash and sports climbing as candidates for the one empty spot.

Baseball and softball were taken off the programme in 2005.

The IOC executive board will meet in St Petersburg in May to determine which of these will be put to the vote in September.

Wrestling had 344 athletes in total at the London Olympics, competing in greco-roman and freestyle disciplines. Women’s events were introduced at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

With files from Reuters