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Greenfield wrestler saddened as sport cut from Olympics

Elena Pirozhkova reacts after beating Adeline Gray in the 63-kilogram freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials, Sunday, April 22, 2012, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Elena Pirozhkova reacts after beating Adeline Gray in the 63-kilogram freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team Trials, Sunday, April 22, 2012, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Purchase photo reprints »

Elena Pirozhkova didn’t believe the bad news she read via a text message when she woke up Tuesday morning. The former Greenfield resident and 2012 Olympian quickly learned that what she had read was in fact the truth: the International Olympic Committee had announced that wrestling would be cut from the 2020 Summer Games.

“When I first heard about it (Tuesday) morning I thought it was just a bad rumor,” Pirozhkova said. “I never imagined this would happen to wrestling. It’s a little bit of a shocker.”

While Pirozhkova was saddened by the news, the decision will likely not affect the 26-year-old, who is training to compete in the 2016 Games, but is leaning toward hanging up her wrestling gear after that.

Tuesday’s decision came following a secret-ballot vote by the 15-member IOC executive board. The Summer Games feature 26 sports, and the number was to be cut down to 25 for the 2020 Games in order to make room for a new sport. Many thought the sport in most jeopardy was the modern pentathlon, but the board opted to keep that, instead cutting wrestling, which according to Pirozhkova is among the oldest Olympic sports.

According to the Associated Press, the vote came after the board went over a report that analyzed 39 criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. The group of sports on the chopping block along with wrestling included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey, officials familiar with the vote told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Pirozhkova argued that the sport is as popular as ever, pointing to what she said were packed arenas in London during the 2012 Games. She also said that the sport, which featured 344 athletes at the London Games, is growing in popularity in this country, and remains very popular in many countries around the world.

“It’s the national sport in some countries,” she said. “It’s like football here in America, and soccer in Europe.” Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling will both remain on the program for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, which Pirozhkova hopes to be part of. It’s unlikely that the 26-year-old would still be wrestling by the time the 2020 Games come around, but she admitted it would be a possibility. She said that more likely she would like to return to school following the 2016 Games in order to become a chiropractor. Regardless, she said, it’s a shame to see the sport that opened so many doors for her get cut.

“Wrestling has provided me with an opportunity, the so-called Olympic dream and American dream,” she explained. “You don’t have to be rich to wrestle. A girl from India that took third at the World (Championship) in 2012 started wrestling on dirt. I would hate to see boys and girls, men and women, denied the same kind of opportunities.” Pirozhkova said that should wrestling remain cut, past 2020, it’s likely that the Olympic Training Facility she has lived and trained at for seven years in Colorado Springs, Colo., will no longer house wrestling. She said that wrestlers would still be able to get good training in collegiate programs, but it wouldn’t be the same level that is currently offered.

There is still a slim hope for wrestling to get back on the program in 2020. The board will add one program to take the open slot in the 2020 Games, and wrestling goes into a pool with seven other sports — baseball and softball (combined), karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wake-boarding and wushu — for the one opening. The board will meet again in May to cut that list down and the final vote will take place in September.

Others in the wrestling community closer to home were also stunned by the announcement.

“I don’t think it makes any sense at all,” former Frontier Regional School wrestling coach, and Massachusetts Wrestling Coaches Hall of Famer Don Gorden said. “It’s one of the oldest sports in the world. Some of the sports and activities that they are putting in, I just don’t understand it.” Golf and rugby will both be making their Olympic debut at the 2016 Summer Games.

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