The folklore surrounding Kennard-Dale High junior Chance Marsteller suggested he could one day compete in the Olympic Games. That possibility now seems bleak.
The International Olympic Committee eliminated wrestling as one of its "core sports" for the 2020 Olympics despite its presence since the first Games in 1896. The IOC's executive board meets in May to decide whether wrestling or one of seven other sports should be added in September's final vote.
The decision upset Marsteller, who is competing in this week's PIAA Class AAA Wrestling Championships, but he's confident wrestling will return.
"Obviously no one at the IOC has ever wrestled because they don't understand wrestling is the most grueling sport out there by far," he said. "It's been around for so long. It's one of the very first sports in the Olympic Games, back to Roman and Greek times.
"I really think it's going to get overturned. I pray to God it's going to get overturned."
Predicting such a bright future for a young athlete is a stretch, but Marsteller was beating college wrestlers while in eighth grade and is ranked No. 1 nationally by InterMat Wrestling at 170 pounds.
He moved down to 160 to beat Central Dauphin's Garrett Peppelman, InterMat's No. 5 wrestler, 7-2 in the PIAA Class AAA Southcentral Region tournament championship two weeks ago. Marsteller, 121-0 in high school, was upset he didn't win by more.
The IOC's decision came at a poor time for Marsteller. His coach, Mike Balestrini, didn't want him to be interviewed during the week leading up to the District 3 tournament because he wanted Marsteller to focus on competing for the title.
"It happened at probably the worst time for me to show emotions," Marsteller said after his win against Peppelman. "I'm in the middle of the postseason. I can't let things get to me. I'll focus on that a little bit afterwards."
If wrestling isn't added back to the Olympics, mixed martial arts could be a possible future. He said he would like to become a wrestling coach, but he has a background in several fighting styles in addition to his wrestling skills.
"I want to stick to wrestling," Marsteller said. "But if it comes down to a money issue, maybe I might jump into (MMA). We'll see. I have a lot of time."
MMA has been an attractive option for collegiate wrestlers to remain competitive, use their talents in sports and earn money. Ben Askren, Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar have been among the many who have switched sports.
"(Wrestling is) an awesome base for fighting, for mixed martial arts, for everything," UFC president Dana White told MMA Weekly recently. "The problem is nobody wants to watch it. But what this could be is the evolution of mixed martial arts becoming an Olympic sport. We bring spectators, eyeballs, whether it's on TV or whatever it is."
Bermudian Springs High graduate and York College wrestling coach Duane Bastress is one wrestler who changed pursuits. A two-time NCAA Division III wrestling champion, he is 6-2 competing for Bellator, a step below the more-famous UFC.
Wrestling lent itself naturally to his new pursuit. MMA fighters who wanted to improve their wrestling skills approached him for lessons, and he joined when they asked if he wanted to compete in MMA.
"That one-on-one competition, I think that's why wrestlers love it," Bastress said. "We were born and bred with that one-on-one competition. I trained my butt off. He trained his butt off. Let's see who is better, man against man."
If wrestling is cut from the Olympics, its athletes could still compete in the annual world championships. But Marsteller said that event doesn't carry the same appeal.
"You see the same guys at the top level, but it's just not the same," he said. "People dream of that goal from when they're really young. No one, as they're younger, says, 'I want to win the world championship.' It's, 'I want to win the Olympic Games.'"
Marsteller still has an opportunity to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He would be just 20 years old, an imperfect age considering wrestlers reach their prime in their mid-to-late 20s. But it's still a chance to accomplish his goal of winning a gold medal.
"A couple years down the road from now, I'll be older, more mature, ready to roll with some of the top dogs," he said. "If 2020 is there, then lucky me."
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