Women’s Weekly: Will beach wrestling be an Olympic sport?


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The growth of women’s wrestling at the high school and college level spills over into international wrestling. The Olympic Games currently feature three different wrestling disciplines: Men’s Freestyle, Women’s Freestyle and Men’s Greco-Roman Wrestling.

That could change by the end of the decade.

Women’s beach wrestling is on the table for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Men and women would each have two disciplines if this became a reality. And that would be great with USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender.

“As we build women’s participation in sport, we need to make sure that we build a strong foundation,” Bender said. “Anything we can do to provide equal opportunities for women to participate in the Olympic Games in the sport of wrestling, we must continue.

“I think it’s legitimately a desire to have more gender equity in sport at the Olympic level. I know the international federation thinks that (beach wrestling) is a legitimate possibility. I think it is legitimate. I think that it is possible.

It would ultimately change the scope of Bender’s work if beach wrestling became an Olympic sport. USA Wrestling would be responsible for overseeing the new discipline, which would include funding and building a national team.

“We’re going to have to find a way to provide the resources and the opportunity to continue down this path,” Bender said. “It’s creating events. It’s about creating a national team, at the end of the day, just like we do with the other three teams.

“I think the sport needs a bit more tweaking to make sure the rules are correct and we’re still learning the best way to present it. You don’t have to look far to see the impact beach volleyball has had on volleyball. I think there is upside potential.

Tuff Luft

Lilly Luft – a state champion from Iowa – has already shown interest in the sport as a viable option for forming an Olympic team. Luft placed fourth at the Cadet Beach World Championships over the summer when asked to make the team.

The wrestling on the beach consists of a three-minute period and the first three-point wrestler wins the match. There are a few nuances that need to be explained, but, for the most part, these are teardowns and exits.

“I immediately started training for wrestling on the beach, even though I had never done it before. The rules are very different from what I’m used to, ”said Luft. “We have a volleyball court at our local fairground, so we practiced there every day. It was a lot of Greco and upper body training.

“I like the aggressiveness of the wrestling on the beach. It’s still the same struggle. We always do the same things. You see how strong they are in their upper body. It was fun to see where I stood against the best in the world.

What is hanging up in Iowa?

Luft is currently competing at Charles City High School, although Iowa has yet to sanction women’s wrestling. There is a year-end state competition hosted by the Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association (IWCOA), but there is no dedicated girl sport throughout the year.

Charles City currently has 14 high school girls on the team, including 17 in middle school. These are good numbers, but it’s not like that all over the state.

“I have friends who are the only girls on the team and a lot of the community is not supportive of them,” Luft said. “I am fortunate to be in a community that supports our women’s wrestling team.

“It can be painful when a girl takes a boy’s place on the wrestling team. Until we get sanctioned and have our own division, this will be something that a lot of schools will struggle with. Getting sanctioned will help a lot in this.

Where has Menlo gone?

Menlo may have been the best women’s wrestling team in the country during the 2019-20 varsity season, regardless of the division. Then they disappeared.

The Oaks were the favorites to win the 2020 NAIA Championships before they were canceled due to a global pandemic. Strict COVID protocols in California have been derailed all last season for Menlo. Several coaches and athletes left the program when the virus struck – and the wrestling team are still recovering from it.

Head coach Joey Bareng had to deal with limited training time and no competition for almost two years.

“We have just started the competition,” said Bareng. “The last few weeks have been the first time we have competed in over 21 months. It was the last time we brought kids in Menlo swimsuits to a school and competed. We were the only team that was really touched when you talk about the best teams in the country.

“I think 90 percent of schools participated last year. They got about 30 games, maybe more. I have been coaching for a long time and this has been – by far – the most difficult thing for me to overcome as a coach.

Family tradition

Hildebrandt has become a popular name in wrestling in recent times.

Sarah, 28, won a bronze medal at the Olympics and a silver medal at the World Championships this year.

Amy, 25, is the head coach of women at Trine University in Angola, Indiana.

Drew, 24, placed fourth at the 2021 NCAA Championships and is looking for more in his senior season.

Trine added women’s wrestling in 2020 and hired Amy as her inaugural coach. The Thunder helped a wrestler reach the round of 12 at the Collegiate Women’s National Wrestling Championships in 2021 despite having a limited squad.

This year’s roster includes just five wrestlers and no assistant coaches.

“It’s a lot different to create a program than to inherit it,” Amy said. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing because you can give your own meaning to things and build the team and the culture.

“It’s a whole new program so I’m really lucky to develop the girls. I really have to put in the time to help my daughters figure out how to wrestle. I’m working to have a bigger team, but that’s good because I’m building the program to really master the technique for what will soon be my upper class students.

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Robert J. King