Coleman Scott has had quite a whirlwind year as an athlete.
“I’d say some of the experiences were unbelievable for sure, beyond anything I could have ever dreamed up,” he said.
High on that list was competing in the London Olympics and bringing home a bronze medal for Team USA. He has continued to compete since London and was part of another unique experience a few weeks ago, travelling to Germany, Azerbaijan and—of all places—Iran to compete for his beloved country, where he had an experience that was even more unbelievable—but not in a good way.
Scott was one of the first American wrestlers to land and get settled in for a training session in Frankfurt, Germany when he turned on the only English language TV station he could find, and noticed a scrawl on the bottom of the screen that said wrestling had been voted off the Olympic programme for the 2020 games.
“I thought I was tired, and it was a joke that couldn’t be true,” he said. “But the word spread that it was true and that we were in the fight of our lives for our sport; it was as shocking a moment as I have ever experienced.”
Scott's is a story that is typical of many American Olympians.
After winning an NCAA title at Oklahoma State, he has dedicated his life to fulfilling an Olympic dream, helping raise money on his own, and with his wife, travelling around the globe on limited funds, working with his Federation, the USOC, and his teammates to promote the sport.
“It really is the Olympic ideal that most people think of—amateur status with a huge stage every four years is what we strive for,” he added. Now, unless the tide turns, that dream—and the sport itself—is in for the fight of its life.
But if there is a sport that can turn things around quickly and re-surface on the Olympic programme, many feel it will be wrestling. One of the core Olympic sports since the games begun, it is also one of the few sports that can unite nations that seemingly are always at odds.
Scott saw that galvanization first hand last week, when the Olympic team, just days after the snub by the IOC, was given a hero’s welcome, improbably, in Teheran. The team arrived for a multi-national meet, and what followed was an outpouring of support that few expected.
“The Iranians understand the value of the sport to their culture, and it was clear from when we arrived that this was now an issue that was bigger than political beliefs to many of them,” he added. “We were greeted and treated with the utmost class and respect everywhere we went, and they never stopped cheering for us.”
Team USA were greeted by signs of support in English and Arabic, and the loudest cheers were for American gold medalist Jordan Burroughs, who won his match against an Iranian and was given a standing ovation in a country that most Americans probably thought would have been a hostile environment.
The ultimate surprise came moments before the end of the competition, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined the crowd and was not only supportive of the American effort, but shook hands with and applauded the US contingent.
“It was clear," noted Scott, "that our sport was even more important at that point than any political agenda, and I think that speaks really loudly when you consider the impact we as Olympians can have on the world.”
Scott, who did not compete in the matches in Iran, and many of his teammates returned home this last weekend and were greeted with a huge groundswell of support, not just from the wrestling community, but from politicians and casual fans as well.
That support has unified the wrestling community, not only in the U.S. and Iran, but also in Russia, where several elite wrestlers have returned their medals from previous Olympics, and to other countries like Brazil and Turkey.
But Scott’s primary focus doing all he can personally to make sure that the Olympic dream for young people stays alive like his was.
“I have heard from so many young people, ages 10 and 11, high school and college kids, who are crushed that this sudden change by the IOC has ruined a dream for them that I had from when I was 10,” he concluded.
“That is something we as a sport, and we as athletes, need to fix -- we can’t let their dream die and we need to work and do whatever we can to right this wrong as quickly as possible.”
For Coleman Scott, an unbelievable year of success was rounded out with the unbelievable shock of exclusion from the Olympics—for now. But he knows from experience the value of never giving up and is determined, even as his career is in its final stages, to take up the fight for all the others with similar lofty aspirations, and not just in the States but also around the world.
Scott and his sport are in for the fight of their lives, but it’s one they think they are more than ready for.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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