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.

Minnesota Vikings’ curling TD celebration in NFC title game (video)

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Curling was the highlight of the NFC Championship Game for the Minnesota Vikings.

Kyle Rudolph caught a 25-yard touchdown on their opening drive against the Philadelphia Eagles, then launched into a four-man celebration warming up for the Winter Olympics.

Rudolph rolled the football in the end zone like a curling stone, while Latavius Murray and Stefon Diggs mimicked sweepers (just without the brooms). Adam Thielen rounded out the four-man rink.

The Vikings had no other scores to celebrate. They lost 38-7, upsetting the seven out of 10 curlers on the Olympic team who hail from Minnesota.

Earlier in the last two seasons, football players celebrated touchdowns with the hurdles, the long jumpbobsled, a relay and a race walk.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Winter Olympics

Gus Kenworthy qualifies for Olympic ski slopestyle team

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Two nights after taking a massive slam in the halfpipe, Gus Kenworthy bounced back to earn a spot on his second U.S. Olympic slopestyle team.

Kenworthy placed second at the final Olympic qualifier for freeski slopestyle, which was held Sunday at Mammoth Mountain. That result, combined with a victory at a selection event last weekend, qualified him for the Olympic team.

It wasn’t the smoothest week for Kenworthy, who had been trying to make the U.S. team in both halfpipe and slopestyle.

During Friday night’s final qualifier for the ski halfpipe team, Kenworthy struggled to land a run and then had a hard crash on his final attempt.

On Saturday, he placed 58th out of 63 skiers in the preliminary round of a slopestyle selection event.

It was a different story on Sunday though.

By making the slopestyle team, Kenworthy will have another shot at an Olympic medal. He won a silver medal at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, where slopestyle made its debut, and was part of a podium sweep alongside Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper.

Earlier in the day, Goepper became the first skier to make the men’s slopestyle Olympic team. Because of weather delays throughout the week, Mammoth ended up hosting a pair of Olympic qualifiers on Sunday.

Goepper and Kenworthy were the only skiers to earn automatic nominations onto the men’s slopestyle Olympic team during the qualifying period. Two more skiers can still be added to the team as discretionary selections.

McRae Williams, the 2017 X Games silver medalist, has a strong case for one of those two spots. He finished sixth and fifth at Sunday’s two slopestyle qualifiers.

The other spot on the team looks a little more uncertain. Among the riders likely in consideration is Alex Hall, who was fourth at the final qualifier and is the next ranked skier in terms of qualifying points. It’s also possible that reigning Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen, who just returned to competition last week after rehabbing from a torn ACL, could be in the discussion.

While Kenworthy is now assured a spot on the slopestyle team, he’s likely on the outside looking in for halfpipe. The three automatic spots have already been allocated to David Wise, Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace, and the discretionary spot appears likely to go to Aaron Blunck.

Discretionary picks for both slopestyle and halfpipe are expected to be announced in the next few days.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings

Men’s Freeski Slopestyle
After 5 of 5 Events:

1. Gus Kenworthy, 180** (QUALIFIED)
2. Nick Goepper, 160** (QUALIFIED)
3. McRae Williams, 95
4. Alex Hall, 95
5. Quinn Wolferman, 79
6. Bobby Brown, 68
7. Noah Wallace, 60
8. Joss Christensen, 60

**Has met qualifying minimum of two top-three finishes.