By PAUL GLADER
Danny Mullan doesn’t have to work very hard to explain the allure of the sporting event he organized earlier this summer in New Jersey. It can be summed up in about five words. Guys wrestling on the beach.
If there’s any confusion, just add the word shirtless.
“High school girls love cut and in-shape high school guys,” says Mr. Mullan, a board member of USA Wrestling’s New Jersey chapter who organized the New Jersey State Beach Championships at Asbury Park in July. There, wrestlers tripped, flipped and grappled one another on the sand as DJs played jock anthems and young women in bikinis looked on. “It’s a great atmosphere,” Mr. Mullan said. “It’s the old gladiator type of wrestling.”
Across the country—and as far away as Albania—advocates for this ancient Olympic sport are looking for new ways to drag it out of a slump. While overall participation in high schools in the U.S. is stable, many U.S. colleges have eliminated their wrestling programs—often to add more women’s sports.
In the meantime, many wrestlers all over the world have gravitated to more glamorous (and more lucrative) forms of athletic combat, like mixed martial arts, which combine elements of boxing, judo, kickboxing and wrestling, and where wrestlers have proven to be some of the best competitors.
Competing in Albania
To win them back, wrestling officials have embraced the beach version of the sport. FILA, the international wrestling authority, made beach wrestling an international sport shortly after the 2004 Olympics. This year’s FILA Beach World Championships will happen in Obzor, Bulgaria, on the Black Sea Coast Aug. 28-30. Previous world championships were held in Turkey and Albania.
Beach wrestling is less technical than the Olympic and collegiate styles. The rules are simple: The first wrestler to get three points wins. If you throw an opponent out of the ring or take him down, you get a point. And all the moves must be made on sand, which places an emphasis on brute strength rather than quickness and technique. “A lot more brawn comes into play just because of the logistics of it,” said Mr. Mullan.
At the New Jersey event, which was open to of all ages, 160 wrestlers paid a $25 entrance fee to participate. The wrestlers were separated by their weight classes and experience levels and allowed to wrestle three matches for a chance to win the trophy. Instead of wearing singlets—the tight and somewhat dorky traditional uniform of the sport—the participants were allowed to wear baggy board shorts.
Tim Vanderveer, a 24-year-old from Berkeley Heights, N.J., called the nervous jitters “awesome!” after he won the 180-pound division in the open category. Mr. Vanderveer, a billing analyst at AIG Inc., said this was his first competitive wrestling event since graduating from high school. “I had something unfulfilled,” he said, with sweat and sand stuck to his face. “I had something in the basement, something I wanted to do.”
That same day, in the youth division, Donovan “Donnie” Cataldi, 7, and Thomas O’Keefe, 8, circled each other warily on the sand as parents, friends and passers-by along the boardwalk cheered and yelled commands. A crowd of 500 or so watched and hundreds more stopped along the boardwalk to gawk.
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"Moreover, you scorned our people, and compared the Albanese to sheep, and according to your custom think of us with insults. Nor have you shown yourself to have any knowledge of my race. Our elders were Epirotes, where this Pirro came from, whose force could scarcely support the Romans. This Pirro, who Taranto and many other places of Italy held back with armies. I do not have to speak for the Epiroti. They are very much stronger men than your Tarantini, a species of wet men who are born only to fish. If you want to say that Albania is part of Macedonia I would concede that a lot more of our ancestors were nobles who went as far as India under Alexander the Great and defeated all those peoples with incredible difficulty. From those men come these who you called sheep. But the nature of things is not changed. Why do your men run away in the faces of sheep?"
Letter from Skanderbeg to the Prince of Taranto ▬ Skanderbeg, October 31 1460
Talk about sport.
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