Olympic Sport Lowdown: Wrestling

Dean Nicholas
By Dean Nicholas Last edited 140 months ago
Olympic Sport Lowdown: Wrestling

Two participants, stripped down, singlets akimbo, aiming to toss the other onto the ground and pin them to the floor... sounds a great day out, right? Unfortunately, it seems that Britain doesn't care that much for it.

Alongside football, the wrestling was one of the few events that Olympic organisers had left after the first round of ticketing applications. Strange, particularly when you consider the ubiquity of the ever-popular World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) both on television and at sold-out stadia across the country, but more on that later.

Despite apparent British disdain, wrestling has an extremely long pedigree. Thought to be the world's oldest sport, and one that has featured in every modern Games, wrestling comes in two flavours: Greco-Roman, which first appeared in 1896 and keeps the combat strictly above waist-height, and Freestyle, in which the whole body is in play. Wrestling is subdivided into a number of weight categories, running from 50-55 kg through 96-120kg for the men, and 44-48kg through 67-72kg for women, who have participated in the Freestyle category at the Olympics since 2004. In London all the wrestling events will be held at the Excel Centre.

The format consists of three two-minute rounds in which the grappler attempts to pin his / her opponent's back and shoulders to the ground for two seconds, which results in an automatic win. If neither has been able to, the decision goes on points, which are awarded for take-downs on the opponent; the more outlandish the move, the more points you get ("Superfly" Jimmy Snuka's famed dive from the top of the cage would probably win hands down).

Medals wise, historically the big countries have been the United States (108 medals in Freestyle, 14 in Greco-Roman), the Soviet Union on a total of (56 / 60) and Turkey (41 / 20). Britain has won a total of 17 medals in the Freestyle category. In 2008 Russia was the big winner with 11 medals, followed by Japan on six, then Georgia on four. Britain failed to rack up a single medal, but hey, the only way is up! Team GB's best hopes rest on the brawny shoulders of Leon Rattigan, who took a bronze in the Freestyle 96kg event at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Probably the biggest talking point in Beijing took place during an awards ceremony when Sweden's Ara Abrahamian, incensed by a penalty call that went away against him in the semi-final bout for the Greco-Roman 84kg event, placed his bronze medal onto the mat and walked away in disgust. He was later disqualified and officially stripped of the medal by the IOC.

With drama like that on the cards, it's a shame that the sport was so cruelly shunned by spectators. Perhaps it's the wrestling's unshakeable association with the cartoonish product put out by WWE. In fact, while Olympic organisers might ignore their more rambunctious "sports entertainment" cousin, if they'd been cannier they could have had quite the inspirational story: competing for a place on the American wrestling team for 2012 is none other than Kurt Angle, the gold medal-winner in Atlanta '96 who went on to have a high profile WWE career during the 2000s. He's even got a website chronicling his progress, though at the age of 42, his chances can't be good.

If you want to try out for yourself, your best bet is to start at the British Wrestling website.

We’re giving you the local lowdown on all Olympic sports leading up to the Games.

Last Updated 27 September 2011