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Originally published Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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IOC's decision to drop wrestling is bad news for young athletes

Woodinville High School wrestler Ryan Christensen dreamed of competing in the Olympics. He won't have that chance with the International Olympic Committee planning to eliminate wrestling as an Olympic sport.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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When word circulated Tuesday that the International Olympic Committee had dropped wrestling from the Summer Games, one of the first people Woodinville wrestling coach Shaker Culpepper thought of was Ryan Christensen.

Christensen, a junior at Woodinville, is one of the state's best wrestlers. In fact, Culpepper said he is the best wrestler he has coached in 20 years.

"Actually, he's one of the best wrestlers I've seen at any program," Culpepper said. Culpepper's attention turned to Christensen in the aftermath of the IOC's controversial decision because of this: Given his talent, his work ethic, his drive, Christensen is one of the rare athletes with a chance — a chance — at one day competing for a spot in the Olympics.

And now his window had shrunk to 2016, the final year the Olympics will feature wrestling. After that, one of the oldest sports in the world will lose its biggest stage. Christensen, who will compete at Mat Classic in Tacoma this week, first dreamed about the Olympics five years ago, but the idea rarely got past the dream stage.

He competed in national wrestling tournaments all over the country and even won seven national titles in his weight class. In the past year or two, as his wrestling career progressed, Christensen started thinking of his dream as a potential reality if everything went right.

"That definitely became a goal of mine," he said. "I want to try to get to the Olympics." When Christensen's mom told him of wrestling's fate in the Olympics, he didn't react passionately. He's not sure if his career would have differed if wrestling hadn't been an Olympic sport when he was younger.

He understands the harsh realities of earning a spot on the national team: The percent of those who make it versus those who dream about it is minuscule. But that's not what bothers Culpepper, Christensen's high-school coach.

There are hundreds of elite high-school wrestlers who never went on to sniff an Olympic trial. The point, in Culpepper's mind, is bigger than the end game. By taking wrestling out of the Olympics, the IOC has also taken away a pursuit, a dream, for Christensen and young wrestlers like him.

"The reality is that it might have a minute, minute effect on a few kids," Culpepper said. "But it's not about the kids that would have participated in the Olympics. It's about the goals that will be there someday. You might have a small, small, small percentage of people that wrestle in the Olympics, but I'll tell you, everybody that wrestles or is an elite athlete has dreams of being there someday."

No one knows the collateral damage, if any, that will come from the IOC's decision. In the years to come, wrestlers like Christensen could keep working just as hard and be just as driven, even if the goal of making the Olympics isn't there.

Yet the wrestling community doesn't seem convinced. Culpepper said he received more than a dozen emails Tuesday asking to start or sign a petition.

Christensen is planning on continuing his wrestling career after high school. He's looking at Stanford, Michigan and Cornell and still has time to make a decision.

But he also understands what the decision likely means for him. "There's pretty much nowhere to go after college if they take out the Olympics," he said.

Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or jjenks@seattletimes.com

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