NEW YORK, May 15 (By Dan Elias for RIA Novosti) - Russia, Iran and the United States – rivals on the world stage – joined together in an unlikely alliance Wednesday inside New York’s Grand Central Terminal train station for a wrestling exhibition to try and save their sport from being dropped in the Olympics.
The athletes competed against each other on the mat Wednesday, but were united against a common foe: the International Olympic Committee (IOC), whose executive board has recommended that wrestling be eliminated beginning with the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The “Rumble on the Rails” event served as a fundraiser for New York-area youth wrestling programs, but it was also meant to put an international spotlight on the IOC’s proposal, which shocked the wrestling world when it was made public in February.
“There are millions of kids all over the world who are involved in wrestling,” said Russian Federation team member Soslan Ramonov, who took part in one of the matches.
“And in any type of sport the ultimate goal is to reach the Olympic Games. That’s a dream for so many kids. And to deprive them of having that dream come true, that’s a crime,” said Ramonov.
Security was tight at the event, with New York Police anti-terrorism officers manning the train station’s entrance, and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling the venue. The event filled Vanderbilt Hall, a large open space inside the terminal, dwarfed only by the station’s enormous main hall next door.
Bleachers were set up for fans from all three nations, and a contingent of Iranian supporters waived their nation’s flag and cheered on their team.
Members of New York’s Russian community were less boisterous than the Iranians, but no less enthusiastic. “I think it’s a wonderful display of sportsmanship and friendship,” said Gregori Lukiyantsev, who works at the Russian Federation mission to the United Nations.
And as to wrestling’s future, he cited history, noting “It has been part of the Olympics since ancient times. So you really can’t imagine the Olympics without wrestling.”
In fact wrestling’s Olympic heritage does go back that far. Historians say it was part of the original ancient Greek games dating from around 700 BC.
American film actor Billy Baldwin, who wrestled as a student through high school and college attended the event, and called preservation of Olympic wrestling a matter of social justice. “This is not some kind of elitist sport you can only play with a horse and a polo mallet,” he said.
“Wrestling is part of life in second and third world countries. All you need is two guys and a plot of land, and let’s go,” added Baldwin.
US team member Kyle Dake said he wasn’t surprised by the camaraderie on display. “We’re a brotherhood,” he said. “We know what each other goes through to get where we are. I know those Iranians are working their tails off just like I am, and those Russians are doing the same.”
Iran beat the US 6-1 in the exhibition matches, and the US prevailed against Russia 8-1.
But the result everyone’s focused on comes in two weeks, when the IOC, meeting in Russia, narrows down the list of eight sports including wrestling that are vying for a single open spot in the 2020 Summer Olympics. Then a final decision on wrestling’s fate as an Olympic sport will be made in September.