Fate of Olympic wrestling an unpleasant distraction for Missouri's Dom Bradley

Sunday, March 10, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Dom Bradley sounded like a man who was tired of answering the same questions Thursday.

Bradley wants to focus on winning an NCAA title. He placed third in the heavyweight division at the 2011 NCAA wrestling championships. But for the past month, Bradley has been answering questions about the future of Olympic wrestling.

On Feb. 12, the International Olympic Committee proposed to drop the sport from its program in 2020. In September, the IOC will vote to keep wrestling in the Olympics, or add one of seven other sports.

Like many wrestlers, he takes pride in being an athlete in an original Olympic sport.

“It’s tradition,” Bradley said. “What would you do if the Olympics didn’t have boxing or track?” 

The modern Olympics started in 1896, and Greco-Roman wrestling has been included in every modern Olympics except the 1900 games.

Bradley sat on an exercise bike in the Missouri wrestling team's practice facility. He had his singlet in one hand and his headgear in the other. He wore a shirt that said "Save Olympic Wrestling" earlier in the day.

He sat motionless while answering the nagging questions. He seemed to be stuck between his two dreams. Bradley and the Tigers will start practice in 15 minutes. A month earlier, Bradley answered these same questions with vigor. Now, the media frenzy has taken a toll on him.

Bradley is a sixth-year senior for the Tigers. He is 32-1 this season, and ranked third at heavyweight in Division I. Bradley and the Tigers will wrestle Sunday in the Mid-American Conference tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. 

He took an Olympic redshirt during the 2011-2012 season not taking classes and devoting the year to training for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Bradley split his time between training in Columbia and at the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., until the trials in April 2012.

At the Olympic trials in Iowa City, Iowa, he was one of 10 wrestlers vying for one spot in the 120-kilogram (264-pound) weight class on the U.S. Olympic team. Bradley lost his quarterfinal match. He rebounded with a win in the wrestlebacks, but lost a third match. 

It was over. The dream he worked on for an entire year now had to wait for four more years. Bradley said he was devastated. He knew he could've wrestled better than he did at the trials. 

Despite the outcome, Bradley said he learned a lot and was awestruck at the atmosphere at the trials inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There, he wrestled in front of more than 13,000 people, and competed against some of the best wrestlers in the country.

"It was one of the coolest, (most) surreal moments I've ever been in," Bradley said.

Although Bradley did not make the U.S. Olympic team as a competitor, he did go to London as a training partner for Tervel Dlagnev, who represented the United States in the 120-kilogram weight class of freestyle wrestling at the London games. There, Bradley studied Olympic wrestlers to understand what he still needed to learn.

Missouri coach Brian Smith said the experience Bradley gained in 2012 should make his run at the 2016 games easier. From there, Bradley says he is confident wrestling will still be in the 2020 Olympics, and wants to try to qualify for those games when he is 31 years old. 

Movements sprang up on Facebook and Twitter to keep the sport in the Olympics. Wrestling federations from around the world have united to lobby the IOC to keep the sport in the games. 

"I probably liked about 20 Facebook groups (to keep wrestling in the Olympics)," Bradley said. "Just spread the word to people."

In the month since the IOC's decision, Bradley said he has done several interviews.

"I just talk about how great wrestling is and what it's done in my life," Bradley said. "All I can do is to say how it's helped me, and how it's improved me as a person."

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