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Editor’s Note: Among the notable changes to FILA, the international governing body trying to save Olympic wrestling, was changing many old rules. Dan Gable, the former World/Olympic champion wrestler and coach, talked to WIN Editor Mike Finn in late July 2013 about those rules and how Americans are trying influence those rule changes even more.
WIN: Even after FILA announced rules changes last spring, the United States has created its own slant on rules at both the World Team Trials in June or the Junior/Cadet Nationals in July. What were your thoughts on that?
GABLE: The fact that we did not have overtime in Fargo surprised me. That is what everyone is looking towards, except the current FILA rules (which wants tied matched decided by criteria).
WIN: Why doesn’t FILA want tied bouts determined by overtime?
GABLE: I keep asking myself: Is there something missing from my thinking? I like to give FILA the benefit of the doubt as long as we are making progress for the sport, which are no overtime clinches, three-minute periods, cumulative score and a two-point takedown.
I know the two-point takedown came from bargaining where FILA said we’ll give you a two-point takedown as long as the technical fall is seven points. For right now, that bargain is good.
I know a lot of coaches were upset in this country with the seven-point superiority margin and the fact that a match can end with two three-point moves. I agree with those coaches. I would rather see a ten-point margin.
But I’m not going to push the envelope right now. One thing that FILA is trying to figure out is how wrestling fits within a time frame at international events like the Olympics. The Olympic effort is about how many athletes and sports can fit within the Games. In soccer, overtime goes on for a long time. The IOC may be giving sports like that more leeway. They aren’t doing that with wrestling because they don’t consider wrestling as one of the main sports.
Instead of FILA trying to figure out how wrestling fits within a time schedule, how do we make wrestling a great product. That’s why I think over time, to improve the product, wrestling is going to have to introduce overtime action and not just limit matches to a seven-point scoring margin.
We should be more concerned about scoring points, about entertainment instead of how wrestling fits within a time schedule. Let’s work on our product. Until wrestling gets more power within the IOC, until wrestling becomes a core sport again and focuses on what’s right, we might have to focus on making wrestling fit.
I think the people who are really making the rules right now have a different focus than on improving the sport. I think the IOC is more concerned about FILA changing its image and getting rid of the corruption.
Time will tell. I believe wrestling is on a good track, but we must continue to move forward. While I still don’t understand why Olympic wrestling was threatened, I still believe we are going uphill with the leadership changes that were made.
WIN: Should USA Wrestling promote more of an American style of freestyle that FILA would accept?
GABLE: When we see things that we feel are good, then we should implement them in our tournaments. But I also don’t think that is something we should promote because there are certain lines we shouldn’t cross (in international diplomacy). If all of a sudden we said the American way of wrestling is the best, there is a fear from the other side because many believe wrestling is a European sport.
I think when we talk about a style of wrestling, it’s better that we keep the name of a country out of it, whether it’s the European style or the American style. The international wrestling community must become more consolidated and just promote wrestling. If we quit trying to divide the community, based on rules, we have a better chance of making changes together.
WIN: Why is there a perception that European countries don’t want overtime or ten-point technical falls or long matches?
GABLE: The feelings come out more from the Russians, who I think have a fear of losing control of their domination within international wrestling. Their emphasis has been on high-scoring moves. I think they want a style they have done well in the past.
WIN: When you wrestled, the Russians or Soviet Union as it was known by then, matches lasted nine matches and they were considered strong and successful wrestlers. What happened between then and now?
GABLE: That’s a good question. Maybe they got a little lazy. Wrestling is a sport that requires a work ethic that is needed in the world to do a good job. I think their work ethic has slowed down.
I think there is also the issue of freestyle compared to Greco-Roman, which is much more prevalent in Europe, where arm throws and headlocks are also picked up more by the freestylers and generate higher-scoring moves. I’ve even heard Europeans would like to introduce Greco-Roman to women wrestlers in the future.
WIN: What would you do to change any rules?
GABLE: I would clean up the edge of the mat and I would continue to work on what I believe are the best rules. At this point, I believe that only four of ten rule changes have been done and I believe there need to be more par-terre opportunities. Wrestling in the neutral position is only one dimension of wrestling. Wrestlers like (former Russian gold medal Buvaisar) Saitiev would hit a shuck on his feet, take a guy down and put a hold on a guy and turn him. That’s exciting wrestling. That’s opportunistic wrestling with more entertainment.
WIN: Was there more mat wrestling when you wrestled?
GABLE: Takedowns were big but I turned a lot of guys because they gave me more time to turn guys. But until wrestlers start trying to turn opponents more, the rule makers are not going to give them more time.
WIN: Why are escapes and reversals not revered as much in international wrestling?
GABLE: It isn’t considered valuable from FILA’s point of view. The philosophy or belief is for the bottom man not to be turned, completely opposite to American folkstyle where wrestlers must get off the bottom. They wouldn’t understand why someone would try to get away. Also part of the ability to turn someone (to their back) and the scrambling to get off the bottom, they are actually opening themselves up for turns that could jeopardize themselves. Therefore the No. 1 philosophy is defense. I felt like I always had an edge because I liked to scramble off the bottom.
WIN: If there was more risk means more reward, shouldn’t international wrestling promote more opportunities for the bottom man to score points?
GABLE: There are ways to cheat. A wrestler is supposed to be able to put himself in jeopardy in international wrestling without losing points. Unfortunately, those moves also give the judges an opportunity to give the other wrestler exposure points. I remember once in Kiev, where Mark Ironside tried a standing Granby roll to escape and he ended up losing because the official ruled he gave up back points.
WIN: There are some people who believe that if there was no Olympic-style wrestling, American wrestlers could focus solely on folkstyle. What do you think about that?
GABLE: That’s being narrow-minded. When you limit yourself to one geographical section of the world, you’re not going to grow. Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling offers an entire different philosophy when it comes to wrestling that can help the process towards becoming a good wrestler.
WIN: How has American folkstyle wrestling improved because of freestyle?
GABLE: It’s made the folkstyler learn more about how to move without exposing his back. I eliminated Granby rolls when I became more involved in freestyle. I also learned how to score a lot from defensive moves because of freestyle and eventually learned how to make a defensive move an offensive move because I learned how to take control of the move. If a guy shot at my leg and I used my hip to tip him, then I would work towards a pinning move from there.