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Q&A: Billy Baldwin’s plan to “Keep Olympic Wrestling”

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While many were simply mourning the IOC’s recommendation to remove wrestling from the 2020 Olympics schedule, Billy Baldwin was busy doing something about it. And trust us, he went full Baldwin. Billy named himself Hollywood Point Man for the “Keep Olympic Wrestling” effort and has has asked Olympic champs, Hollywood friends, and strangers on the street to pitch in by taking part in PSAs, interviews, and events, raising awareness, and talking about the value that wrestling instilled in their lives. We chatted with Billy about the future of the sport and somehow ended up in a bear hug at Wednesday’s “Rumble on the Rails.”

How’s your role as the Hollywood Point Person for Keep Olympic Wrestling been?

I’ve never done this, so I’m acting as a freaking publicist behind the scenes. I’ve had a couple of my actor friends show up for this, and it’s really so special that they would, and so important to the community. I want to make sure they talk to you guys and get the word out, so I’ve been talking to a lot of people.

Who all have you gotten in touch with about the movement?

Mark Ruffalo’s here, Mike Golic’s here, Ronnie Lott’s here. I’ve talked to Steve Buschemi and Boardwalk Empire director Timmy Van Patten. We have a good crowd coming out to LA, too. We have Mario Lopez and Matthew Modine and Tom Arnold and Randy Couture. I’m working on Jon “Bones” Jones.

Did they contacted you or vice versa?

I’ve been reaching out to a lot of people. Especially people who have a connection with the sport. Ruffalo just filmed Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher about Olympic wrestler David Schultz, and they had a lot of wrestlers on the set, so they’re having a little reunion of sorts. A lot of legends, like Gable and Stan Dziedzic and Gene Mills were his technical advisors on the set, and it was so funny to watch Ruffalo walk in here. Most people would just shake hands and say hello to each other, but wrestlers just start bear hugging and clinching [which is precisely what Billy did to SI’s Nick Zaccardi and me right about here]. And to see Ruffalo do that the way we would do that, I was like, “He’s method. That’s method”

Have you been encouraged by the turnout for “Rumble on the Rails”?

It’s been a great event. I was thrilled to have the Iranian crowd here. I wish [the American team] had performed a bit better on the mat. We’ve got a big venue to fill Sunday in Los Angeles. It holds about 14,000 and we’ve already sold about 5,000, so we’ll be in good shape. But I think we’re going to be outnumbered by Iranian-Americans by about ten to one.

Why did you take such an active role in “Keep Olympic Wrestling”?

It’s just a very important cause to me. The sport has always helped to shape young boys into men by instilling the values and discipline and work ethic and mental toughness. And those values transcend the sport. When I stopped wrestling, they became tools for life. They served me well as a husband and a father and in the pursuit of my career. It can serve journalism, investment banking, show business. It’s the gift that’s served me through my thirties and forties, and into my fifties.

And there’s obviously something at stake for the world community.

Yes. If we lose wrestling it’s going to be bad for America, it’s going to be bad for high school and college wrestling in America. But we’re blessed. We have many other Olympic sports and many, many, many, events that we can compete in if you’re a parent looking for something for your kids to do. But in Iran, it’s their national sport. They don’t compete in twenty different sports. Some nations only compete in two or three. This is their NFL. These guys are their Babe Ruth, their New York Yankees, their national pastime. You can tell by how good they were today. And to take this away from some kid in a village outside of Tehran or on a farm in Azerbaijan is just an unenlightened decision.

So do you think events like “Rumble on the Rails” are ultimately the way back?

I think so. The IOC wants to bring back the 18 to 34 year old demographic, so they’re bringing in the halfpipe and the X-Games and they’re saying to wrestling, “We’re warning you. Find a way to make it better for television, cooler, sexier, more popular, and more profitable. And if you don’t, you’re out.”

What about the other sports that want their chance to compete in the Olympics?

They should have their opportunity, but not at the expense of wrestling. We have athletes on every continent, we had competitors from eighty countries in London, we had medalists from 29 countries, and to lose it would not just be unfair, it would be socially unjust.

How could wrestling have avoided ending up here?

I don’t want to bash the IOC, especially since our fate still lies in their hands, but I really truly don’t believe they should have recommended removing wrestling. I think they should have gone in and cleaned house in FILA. The governing body had some failed leadership. They just got lazy and complacent, with a lot of ego and hubris and parlor politics, and look where we are now because of their failed leadership. Now we’re in the process of addressing that issue, and we’re excited about what’s to come.

Number of Russian athletes banned from Olympics reaches 86

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Maria Sharapova of the Russia Olympic tennis team carries her country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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MOSCOW (AP) — At least 86 athletes from the 387-strong Russian Olympic team announced last week have so far been barred from the Rio Games in connection with the country’s doping scandal.

International federations in canoeing, sailing and modern pentathlon ruled out eight on Tuesday, including an Olympic gold medalist, following earlier rulings in swimming and rowing. Some appeals are likely.

Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media that Putin had discussed the doping issue with his national security council.

“The topic of the recent International Olympic Committee ruling relating to Russian athletes was raised ahead of Putin’s planned meeting tomorrow with the Russian Olympic team,” Peskov was quoted as saying.

The vast majority of the Russian athletes who miss out are in track and field, where 67 athletes were ruled out when a ban on the Russian team was upheld at the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week.

More are falling foul of new rules imposed in the wake of the country’s doping scandal.

While Russia avoided a blanket ban from the International Olympic Committee, it has lost several medal contenders to new IOC rules imposed Sunday banning Russia from entering athletes who previously doped.

Alexander Dyachenko, an Olympic champion in 2012, was among five canoeists ruled out after being named in a recent report by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren alleging a state-sponsored doping cover-up.

McLaren’s report last week specifically detailed how Russian state officials allegedly intervened to cover up hundreds of failed drug tests.

Dyachenko won gold in the men’s double kayak 200 meters at the 2012 London Games.

“The ICF will continue its strong zero-tolerance stance and remove all athletes that contravene its rules in anyway,” said Simon Toulson, the International Canoe Federation’s general secretary. “If you step out of line you won’t make the start line.”

The four other banned canoeists are Alexei Korovashkov – a 2012 bronze medalist in the C2 1,000 meters event – Andrei Kraitor, Elena Anyushina and Nataliya Podolskaya.

The ICF also said that Russia would not be allowed to enter boats in four events in which the excluded athletes would have raced. Therefore, Austria, Germany, Sweden and Iran are in line to receive their places.

World Sailing said Pavel Sozykin, who had been due to race in the 470 class, would be excluded because he was mentioned in the McLaren report. Russia’s other six sailors were approved and Russia is able to nominate a replacement for Sozykin, the federation said.

Meanwhile, the International Modern Pentathlon Union named the two Russians it had suspended as Maxim Kustov and Ilya Frolov, saying they both featured in the McLaren report. Kustov’s place in the men’s event passes to a Latvian athlete, while Frolov had only been entered for Rio as a reserve.

Three Russian rowers have also been excluded. Ivan Podshivalov and Anastasia Karabelshchikova were excluded because they previously served doping bans, while Ivan Balandin from Russia’s men’s eight was implicated in the McLaren report, World Rowing said.

Meanwhile, volleyball player Alexander Markin told local media he had been dropped due to a positive test earlier this year for the banned substance meldonium, even though he had not been banned. The international volleyball federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The head of the Russian Wrestling Federation told the R-Sport agency that two-time world champion Viktor Lebedev was ineligible because he was given a doping ban in 2006.

On Monday, swimming’s world governing body FINA ruled out seven Russians including reigning world 100m breaststroke champion Yulia Efimova.

Legal challenges are looming.

Efimova’s agent has said he is preparing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and the Russian Canoe Federation’s general secretary Irina Sirayeva said that the five banned athletes could follow suit.

“The intention to defend the athletes is there,” she told R-Sport.

Triple jumper Ekaterina Koneva – a former world championship silver medalist – told local media she was considering a lawsuit in civil court.

There was good news for Russia as its judo and shooting teams – comprised 11 and 18 athletes respectively – received approval to compete from their sports’ international governing bodies.

Also, Russia also looks set to field a full team of four players in Olympic badminton, the Russian Badminton Federation said Tuesday, citing assurances from the Badminton World Federation.

Previously, archery, tennis and equestrian sport’s world governing bodies said they had no objection to the Russians entered in their sports.

Lists of Russian athletes approved by international federations must still be approved by CAS arbiters who can reject athletes not tested outside Russia.

The IOC refused to accept testing done by Russian agencies because of evidence that the process was corrupted.

MORE: Yulia Efimova among Russian swimmers barred from Olympics

Sanya Richards-Ross, Trey Hardee join NBC’s Olympic track and field coverage

Hardee Richards Ross
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NBC has added a couple decorated Olympians to its coverage of the Rio Games, with the Opening Ceremony a little more than a week away on Friday, Aug. 5.

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross and 2012 Olympic decathlon silver medalist Trey Hardee are set to join NBC Olympics’ coverage of track and field. Both served as guest analysts for the NBC Sports Group’s coverage the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials earlier this month.

“We’re thrilled to bring the expertise of Sanya and Trey to our track and field coverage, where they will take viewers inside the sport and provide specific details and insights about the athletes,” said Jim Bell, Executive Producer, NBC Olympics.

Richards-Ross retired July 1 after injuring her hamstring during a 400m preliminary heat at Trials. She was attempting to make her fourth Olympic team after winning two gold medals at the London Games – her first individual gold in the 400m, and her third Olympic gold in the 4x400m relay. She has the most sub-50 second 400m races in history.

Hardee collected the decathlon silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, finishing behind compatriot Ashton Eaton to mark the first time Americans had finished 1-2 in the event at the Olympics since 1956. Hardee also won world titles in 2009 and 2011, and his score of 8,790 set at the 2009 Worlds ranks behind only Eaton, Dan O’ Brien and Bryan Clay in American history.

Leading NBC’s track and field coverage will again be Tom Hammond for the seventh consecutive Olympics. Ato Boldon returns as an analyst in his fourth Olympic assignment, and Lewis Johnson will be the track and field reporter in his ninth assignment with NBC Olympics.

Kenny Albert will handle play-by-play duties for track events on NBCSN, while Todd Harris will perform play-by-play for field events.

Craig Masback is set to provide analysis on the men’s marathon and distance races, with Tim Hutchings assisting with analysis on the marathons.

Track and field competition at the Rio Games begins Aug. 12.

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