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.

Rory McIlroy says Olympic participation still ‘complicated,’ ‘difficult’

HAINAN ISLAND, CHINA - NOVEMBER 23:  Graeme McDowell (R) and Rory McIlroy of Ireland walk behind a flag bearer during the Opening Ceremony of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup at the Mission Hills' Blackstone Course on November 23, 2011 in Hainan Island, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Rory McIlroy has said he was proven wrong about golf’s place in the Olympics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s keen on the 2020 Tokyo Games after skipping Rio.

The four-time major champion was asked Wednesday if he had any plans to play in the next Olympics and called it a “tough question.”

“The participation in the Olympics for me, it’s just a little more complicated I feel for me than some other people from where I’m from and the whole politics of the thing,” McIlroy said. “It’s a difficult subject for me.”

McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, which does not have a separate delegation at the Olympics. That led to a scrutinized decision for McIlroy, who had to choose in 2014 between representing Great Britain and Ireland for golf’s Olympic return in Rio.

McIlroy opted for Ireland, which he represented at the World Cup of Golf in 2009 and 2011.

“I don’t know whether it’s been because the World Cup has been in Brazil and I’ve been thinking a couple of years down the line,” McIlroy reportedly said in June 2014. “Thinking about all the times that I played as an amateur for Ireland and as a boy and everything, I think for me it’s the right decision to play for Ireland in 2016.”

Golf’s place in the Olympics is not guaranteed beyond 2020, so Tokyo may be McIlroy’s last opportunity.

“Four years’ time is a long ways away, so we’ll see what happens,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “Right now, I’ll concentrate on the 16 majors that we have between now and then and try to get a few more of those and go from there.”

MORE: Tim Finchem eyes Olympic golf change in 2020

Rita Jeptoo stripped of Boston Marathon win, ban extended

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 21:  Rita Jeptoo of Kenya crosses the finish line to win the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Kenyan Rita Jeptoo‘s doping ban has been doubled, to October 30, 2018, and her 2014 Boston and Chicago Marathon wins were stripped, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said Wednesday.

Jeptoo repeated as Boston Marathon winner in 2014, one year after twin bombings rocked the world’s oldest annual 26.2-mile race, in a women’s course record 2:18:57.

Jeptoo, 35, tested positive for EPO in an out-of-competition sample in Kenya on Sept. 25, 2014, three weeks before she won her second straight Chicago Marathon.

Athletics Kenya handed Jeptoo a backdated two-year suspension in January 2015, a punishment that was appealed by the IAAF, which sought a longer ban. Jeptoo also appealed the ban but later withdrew her motion.

“In coming to its decision, the Panel found to its comfortable satisfaction that the athlete used rEPO over a period of time to enhance performance,” the court said in a press release Wednesday. “The undisputed source of the rEPO found in her sample of 25 September 2014 was an injection given to her by a doctor. The athlete provided various differing accounts of the circumstances leading up to the injection and also regarding her relationship with that doctor.

“According to the applicable rules, the minimum period of ineligibility in this situation is a sanction of two years but can be increased to up to four years in the case of aggravating circumstances. The Panel is comfortably satisfied that there are aggravating circumstances in the case at hand as it was obvious to the Panel that the athlete used rEPO as part of a scheme or plan. The evidence for this includes inter alia her long relationship with the doctor in question, her multiple visits to see him, that her rEPO use was consistent with her competition calendar, that she hid the visits to the doctor in question from her manager and coach, as well as her deceptive and obstructive conduct throughout the proceedings. Weighing all the evidence, the Panel is comfortably satisfied that the circumstances warrant a period of ineligibility of four years.”

Ethiopians Buzunesh Deba and Mare Dibaba stand to be upgraded from second to first in the 2014 Boston and Chicago Marathons, respectively. Deba’s time of 2:19:59 stands to be the new Boston women’s course record.

Jeptoo also won the Boston Marathon in 2006.

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