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Ex-LI wrestling star fighting to keep sport in Olympics

Wrestlers appear to be skipping the five stages of grief in the wake of last month's International Olympic Committee recommendation to throw their sport out of the Games after 2016. Instead of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, the wrestling community is going directly to retaliation.

"The goal is to get the takedown," said Noel Thompson, the former Freeport High and Hofstra wrestling star and member of the newly formed CPOW (Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling). "There are no style points in wrestling."

Thompson, a 32-year-old founder of his own global hedge fund, has been a volunteer wrestling official for years and serves as team leader of the U.S. national women's team. He was in Thailand for a World Cup competition last month when members of the sport's international governing body, FILA, reacted to the IOC decision with a no-confidence vote that triggered the resignation of its president.

The new interim president, Serbian Nenad Lalovic, is at the IOC's Switzerland headquarters this week to begin wrestling's counter-offensive, arguing for the sport's unrivaled Olympic tradition and its universality, and assuring that it can meet the IOC's aim of "renewing and renovating" the Olympic program.

"It's like, the squeaky wheel gets the grease," Thompson said. "We now know we need to market ourselves better; I guess my Hofstra marketing degree has to come into play. We've got to tell our story, create an awareness and embrace everyone.

"We want our fellow cauliflower comrades with us."

As much a badge as the puffy deformities of their ears, caused by blows that lead to excessive growth of scar tissue, is the wrestlers' pride in standing for primary time-honored Olympic ritual and Olympic inclusiveness.

Their sport is at least 5,000 years old. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were wrestlers, Thompson noted. And second-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. (There is a Marcus Aurelius quote that "the art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, insofar as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall.")

Wrestlers want to remind the IOC, as well as the public, of those facts, even as they "get our house in order," Thompson said, by hiring a paid, full-time executive director for FILA. They want to show an openness toward adding more women's weight divisions and guaranteeing more objective refereeing.

When Thompson accompanied U.S. wrestlers to a competition in Iran recently, the team was embraced by the otherwise anti-American president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "someone I normally wouldn't have my picture taken with," Thompson said.

If the Olympics truly wants to emphasize the brotherhood of humanity, Thompson noted that the 2020 Olympics could be staged in a Muslim nation for the first time -- Istanbul, Turkey, is one of three candidate cities -- and wrestling is a big deal in Turkey.

A May IOC meeting will listen to arguments for Olympic reconsideration, before a final vote on the matter in September. His cauliflower comrades, Thompson said, are optimistic.

"Wrestlers," he said, "are able to embrace adversity, able to operate and come back in uncomfortable situations."

New York Sports