Mouat’s Amrit Benning works to pin Mark Amigo of Guildford Park at the Upper Fraser Valley zone wrestling championships on Saturday.

Mouat’s Amrit Benning works to pin Mark Amigo of Guildford Park at the Upper Fraser Valley zone wrestling championships on Saturday.

Wrestlers grapple with Olympic exclusion, Mouat boys win Upper Valley title

Decision to drop wrestling from the Summer Games was a shocker, but the sport is alive and well in Abbotsford.

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The Upper Fraser Valley is B.C.’s most competitive high school wrestling zone, and as such, it’s not hard to imagine that there were future Olympians on the mats at last Saturday’s regional tourney at Rick Hansen Secondary.

Of course, that’s assuming wrestling itself has a future in the Olympics.

Coaches and athletes alike were rocked by last week’s news that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had voted to eliminate wrestling, an original Olympic sport, from the menu for the 2020 Summer Games.

“It shocked everybody in the wrestling world,” said Jim Mitchell, the longtime wrestling coach at W.J. Mouat Secondary and an Olympic wrestling official at the 2008 Beijing Games.

The ensuing uproar from all corners of the globe has prompted the IOC to give wrestling a second chance – in September, it will compete with baseball/softball, squash, karate, sport climbing, wakeboarding, wushu and roller sports for one spot on the 2020 slate. But that’s hardly a guarantee.

Mitchell pointed out that when a sport is dropped from the Olympics, it’s not funded at the same level by the federal and provincial governments.

Furthermore, it affects the sport at the grassroots level.

“If you’re not in the Olympics, it’s hard to get those role models – the Carol Huynhs, the Daniel Igalis,” Mitchell said, alluding to past Canadian gold medallists. “Nobody knows how many world championships Carol Huynh has won. They just know she won a gold and a bronze in the Olympic Games.

“And then if I’m a kid, do I want to go into women’s soccer, which is an Olympic sport where we have (Abbotsford native) Sophie Schmidt? Or do you want to go into wrestling, where there’s no Olympic heroes? People make those sorts of decisions.”

HAWKS SOAR TO ZONE TITLE

Wrestling is alive and well in Abbotsford, though. At last Saturday’s Upper Valley meet, Mitchell’s Mouat Hawks won the boys team title, racking up 140 points to nearly double up on second-place Guildford Park of Surrey (74). Mouat’s gold medallists were Navrose Brar (38 kg), Davinder Gill (51 kg), Amrit Benning (60 kg), Khang Nguyen (63 kg) and Nishan Randhawa (78 kg).

Four other local boys teams were in the top 10 – Abby Traditional was third (59 points), defending B.C. champion Rick Hansen was sixth (47), MEI was seventh (38) and Robert Bateman was ninth (24).

Gold medal winners included Navdeep Toor (Eugene Reimer Middle, 41 kg), Tejpaul Kullar (Abby Traditional, 45 kg), Dave Sharma (MEI, 54 kg), Justin Gill (Hansen, 70 kg), Jobanjit Phulka (Hansen, 84 kg) and Rajan Gill (MEI, 90 kg).

On the girls side, Mouat took third with 18 points, led by silver medallists Ashleigh Bull (40 kg), Gagan Malay (47 kg), Pravi Dhaliwal (60 kg) and Tamanna Bains (64 kg). Sarah McPherson of Abby Traditional also won a silver medal at 54 kg.

The provincial championships run March 1-2 in Duncan.

Justin Gill (in blue) of the Hansen Hurricanes takes down Riley Carter of the Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers in their 70 kg match. (John Morrow photo)