Still on the mat

Gaels enter off-season with focus on increased recruiting efforts in midst of Olympic uncertainty

Third-year wrestler Yi Quan placed fourth in the women’s 63 kg division at the OUA championships, leading Queen’s women to a seventh-place finish overall.
Third-year wrestler Yi Quan placed fourth in the women’s 63 kg division at the OUA championships, leading Queen’s women to a seventh-place finish overall.

While wrestling flounders on an international stage, Gaels athletes are trying to grow the sport at Queen’s.

Last month, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board voted to remove wrestling from the Summer Olympics, starting in 2020.

The decision to drop wrestling, an original event of the modern Games, could carry severe repercussions for Canadian university wrestlers.

Third-year Gaels wrestler Yi Quan said she knows several amateur wrestlers whose Olympic dreams have been put on hold.

“[The Olympics are] where their motivation is — it’s what they want to do in life,” Quan said. “For people like that, who train hard their entire life, it’s kind of unfortunate.”

Coordinated movements to protest the IOC’s decision are currently in motion, including a personal hunger strike from Bulgarian national coach Armen Nazaryan. One extra sport will be added to the 2020 Olympic program in May; wrestling is one of eight events on the ballot.

Quan doesn’t think the IOC will be swayed, but said the uproar demonstrates the passion of the wrestling community.

“It shows that people really love wrestling — people that wrestle, at least.”

While Quan doesn’t have Olympic aspirations herself, she’s hoping to solidify the growth of Gaels wrestling heading forward.

The team earned two fourth-place finishes at the OUA championships on Feb. 16, including Quan’s performance in the women’s 63 kg division. No Gaels wrestler qualified for last weekend’s CIS national meet.

“I think we started [the season] a little bit stronger than we did at the end,” Quan said.

According to Quan, the team struggles to maintain consistent membership throughout the season — something she’d like to see addressed during her remaining time at Queen’s.

“I really want a bigger, solid team for the entire year, instead of people coming out and they stop coming,” she said.

Quan said the team plans to release an online information package to connect with high school wrestlers and recruit more effectively.

Gaels head coach Gianni Vecchio said the team’s greatest challenge is attracting accomplished athletes that can meet Queen’s stringent entrance requirements.

“We’re trying to go after the athletes who do have the marks and who are capable of being potential good wrestlers,” he said.

Vecchio returned to the Gaels three years ago after an extended break from coaching. He said the team’s youthful crop of female wrestlers — including Quan, Kerri Malcolm and Liz Wigle — has the ability to succeed at the national level.

All three represented the Gaels at last month’s OUA championships, leading the women’s side to a seventh-place result overall.

“They’re definitely coming along — we’re starting to get a little closer to the medals at [the OUA championships],” Vecchio said. “In the next three years, I think we might have a [CIS] gold medalist.”

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