Sports Editor Jack Winter takes a look at the ancient sport of Greco-Roman Wrestling but what did he make of the sport and its participants?
Announcer: ‘And now… Here for you today all the way from the U.S.A to tell you about our sport, one of the biggest names in wrestling…’
In my head: ‘Please be The Rock. Please be The Rock. Please be the Rock…’
Of course it wasn’t The Rock. This was not world famous WWE Wrestling, I was sat in the London ExCel Arena to watch Greco-Roman Wrestling. As a history student it seemed only fitting that I should go and see one of the Olympics’s most ancient sports, fortunately enough it seems that the sport has moved on since its early days of oiled naked men grappling in sand pits.
Greco-Roman Wrestling involves two men attempting to pin their opponent’s shoulders to the floor, throw them onto the mat or shunt them out of the ring. If they manage any of these they score points, the person with the most points wins. Simple right? Not necessarily. For much of my afternoon I found myself completely at a loss as to who was winning or really to what was going on! There were three adjacent rings in the ExCel Arena which three different weights fought across. I can’t remember what they were, but it seemed to be something along the lines of: normal muscular blokes, scary ‘half bear/half man’ men, and men who live at the top of beanstalks (see Mijain Lopez). I’m not actually kidding, the guys in the heaviest category resembled Desperate Dan having a fight with ‘The Thing’ from The Fantastic Four.
It was easy to at first dismiss this as a sport where massive oafs pushed, hugged and threw each other around. After about twenty minutes it became apparent that this was in fact a very technical and athletically demanding sport, there were seemingly hundreds of moves, grips and counters to these; all of which were executed by astonishingly strong men. Indeed the athletic prowess on display was no less impressive than in any of the other sports.
Great Britain had not entered a competitor into the Greco-Roman Wrestling so like my last foray into London 2012 I had to pick myself a surrogate nation. My choices were from the likes of: Iran, Iraq, Sweden, Cuba, USA, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, Japan, South Koreaand countless others. It did at time seem as though these men were replaying just about every war that has ever happened! My personal favourite was the bout between Iran and Iraq, or perhaps USA and Cuba. Despite the obvious propensity for hostility between the nations, every wrestler without exception was a paragon of sportsmanship and the values of the Olympics. Greco-Roman Wrestling is as civilised as the great civilisations that it shares its name with.
At points it felt like I was in Tehran rather than London, the support of the Iranian fans was brilliant and almost had me chanting along with them. Indeed this was a truly international event with countries from every far-flung corner of this planet uniting through a very ancient sport from Europe. Watching two massive blokes throwing each other around has entertainment value that jumps all borders!
As a sport I’m not sure I’d go again, it was exhilarating to see the various throws and smackdowns, but there was far too much time spent mounting and hugging each other on the floor for me. Once again the Olympics showed me a new sport and gave everyone an afternoon that had been five thousand years in the making. My love affair with the Olympics isn’t showing any signs of letting up!