Like so many thousands of others, not a day goes by where Ben Askren doesn't wonder how the sport that gave him so much got to where it is today, awaiting the International Olympic Committee's decision to see if wrestling will be reinstated to the 2020 Olympic Games.
"It still seems like a bad dream, because we as wrestlers and former wrestlers had no idea that FILA had done such a bad job," he said this week between training sessions in Milwaukee, Wis. "Now we have all fought hard to get the sport righted, and we hope that it's enough. We will find out pretty soon if it was."
That next step comes later today, when the IOC Executive Committee announces the three sports it is putting forward for a vote in Buenos Aires in September. Wrestling was thrown into the mix with former Olympic sports like baseball/softball and karate, wannabes like squash and wakeboarding and even wushu, the Asian Martial Arts form, to see who could make the 2020 programme. Many feel wrestling will move ahead, but nothing is being taken for granted.
"That's the one thing about wrestling, and now MMA—you have to be prepared for everything. One misstep, one poor move, and it's over. Now we have learned that about our sport, and it's pretty devastating," he said.
These have been great days for Askren, the current welterweight undefeated champion for Bellator. The four-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion at the University of Missouri used his unorthodox style to the max on the mats, setting the collegiate wrestling record for pins during his career and leading him to a berth on the 2008 US Olympic team that competed in Beijing. Although he didn't medal, he still counts his Olympic experience as essential to having gotten him to an elite spot in MMA, along with so many other past and present champions from Bellator and the UFC.
"The international experience I had though USA Wrestling couldn't be duplicated anywhere else, and it led me to where I am today," he added. "Without it, who knows where I would have ended up, and where so many other kids who use wrestling as a springboard to learn life's skills will end up in the future, it's really scary to think about."
Askren said he thinks about it every day, and has spent his time away from the cage amplifying the message to anyone who will listen.
"I tweet daily, talk to kids, send emails, push others to do the same; it is almost as important to me as training," he added. "This has been a wake up call for wrestling, and we have a responsibility to make sure we take nothing for granted and hopefully get a shot at fixing the problems so that others can have the dream fulfilled like I did."
Even with a positive outcome, Askren intends to keep the fight alive well through the summer, and will be ready to take the message to an even wider audience when he defends his Bellator title against Andrey Koreshkov in July in Albuquerque. The promotion, led by Bjorn Rebney as well as Dana White and the UFC, have been very vocal in supporting the "Keep Olympic Wrestling" message alive, a smart move given the number of marketable stars in MMA that come from an elite wrestling background.
While he waits for his title defense, Askren, like so many others around the world, hopes for good news from St. Petersburg this afternoon.
"The great thing about wrestling is its one-on-one nature—you have direct control over your own destiny" he concluded. "Now it's out of our hands, and we need to take it back and never let it go again. I hope we get the chance."
Jerry Milani is a featured writer at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first-hand unless noted.
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