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Andy’s Angles: Lalovic still trying to make sport more fan-friendly
By Andy Hamilton
The big story of the day for Sept. 10: United World Wrestling president Nenad Lalovic indicates more changes are on the horizon.
It might not have been his first mission when he became the head of wrestling’s governing body two years ago, but making the sport more fan friendly was somewhere near the top of Nenad Lalovic’s priority list.
His comment that stuck with me most in 2013 was the one about simplifying the sport to the point where a first-time spectator could walk into an arena in the morning and grasp the rules before leaving at the end of the day.
I’m not sure we’re at that point yet. There are still things that I find confusing. I’m certainly no rules expert, but I’m not a rookie spectator, either, and I’ve been completely perplexed by a couple rulings this week.
So how far along is United World Wrestling in its quest to make wrestling more fan-friendly?
“It is a good question and the answer is even more difficult than I thought,” Lalovic said. “We have to have the understanding of what (spectators) want. Definitely, we need simpler rules. But we have changed rules in the last three years and for the fans, it’s quite difficult to follow all this. In the beginning, a year ago, a year and a half ago, it was very difficult for the referees. They still make mistakes because it’s very difficult to adapt to all the rules.”
Make no mistake, the majority of the rule changes have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a far more entertaining product than the one we watched three years ago, and Lalovic has numbers to back that up.
Traffic on the United World Wrestling website was so high this week that it crashed the servers.
“I’m happy about that,” he said. “I’m happy to reinvest in technology.”
Lalovic said the site had 3 million visitors in the last year. It had 1.3 million on the first day of the tournament alone and another 2.5 million on the second. Imagine the numbers it’ll get when UWW offers translation for Farsi and Chinese.
“The fans have to be involved,” Lalovic said. “Once the circus will come into their towns and they have to know everything about that circus.”
The UWW president dropped several bullet point news items during his 30-minute press conference.
- Lalovic said uniform changes could be in place before the 2016 Olympics.
“We are trying to find something that’s satisfactory for everybody,” Lalovic said. “It’s very difficult to introduce to the athletes a new kind of singlet. We would like to have something modern and more recognizable for the sport. The singlets our athletes are wearing are old fashioned and we have to do something.”
- Lalovic hinted at possible changes to the bracketing system after 2016 — separating the top two wrestlers at each weight, for instance — but don’t expect major changes.
“If we change the system and we have a ranking of the athletes for the draws, then many small countries will not have a single chance to go to the Olympics and this is dangerous for the sport,” Lalovic said. “The geography of the sport is very important and it’s important for the IOC.”
- Gender balance remains a priority for wrestling. Lalovic said women’s Greco-Roman and women’s beach wrestling are two of the possible options to achieving that goal, “but we are far from that point.”
He said any possible changes on that front wouldn’t occur until after the 2020 Olympics.
- Best match – 65 kg championship Frank Chamizo (Italy) dec. Ikhtiyor Navruzov (Uzbekistan), 4-3
Can we make this a best of three? These guys put on a six-minute display of athleticism, skill and non-stop action.
- Best throw – Katerina Vidiaux Lopez (Cuba)
One second Erin Clodgo was in deep on an attack. The next, she was getting launched. Vidiaux’s four-point move was the best throw I’ve seen in a women’s freestyle match.
- Best first impression –Katal Yeerlanbieke (China)
I hadn’t seen him wrestle before or even heard much about him prior to Thursday, but Yeerlanbieke made a quick impression when he ripped through Turkey’s Mustafa Kaya in the opening round. Then he took Brent Metcalf to the wire with extreme horsepower, physicality and a dizzying pace. Thursday won’t be the last time we hear from this dude.
Best quote – Adeline Gray (United States)
“I really hope young girls realize there are opportunities out there. I thought I was going to go and play four years of college soccer and go into the working field and there’s nothing wrong with that life. But boys in this country have this opportunity to dream big and be able to look at NBA stars and NFL stars and all these Olympic medalists out there because there’s so many opportunities for boys to look up to them. And girls don’t have that. We have recently had Serena Williams and a couple soccer stars here and there and we need to show them it’s not just in those mainstream sports.
“There are opportunities all across the board and USA Wrestling is a great example. I have my education fully covered, I live and train out of the Olympic Training Center, I’m a professional athlete and I don’t think girls know they have that option; that they can work hard every single day and get to that point.
“It’s such an amazing life I’m living and I want them to realize that’s an option; that they can go to school and play a sport that they can dedicate themselves and become a World champion at something they’ve never even dreamed of. I want them to have that dream so it starts younger.”