Sue Schneider, MGP Agency

Q&A: Mark Ruffalo joins effort to “Keep Olympic Wrestling”

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On top of all the incredible athletes wrestling at Wednesday’s “Rumble on the Rails,” many familiar faces showed up to the event in support of the Keep Olympic Wrestling movement, including champions like Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, and Kurt Angle, NFL hall of famer Ronnie Lott, ESPN personality Mike Golic, and Hollywood point man Billy Baldwin, who showed me a few wrestling moves between matches. But one surprise guest was Mark Ruffalo, who appeared as the Hulk in last year’s The Avengers and will star as Olympic wrestler David Schultz in the upcoming film Foxcatcher. We chatted with him about how wrestling has shaped his career, and how the IOC’s recommendation to remove wrestling might ultimately help the sport.

Why was it important for you to join the Keep Olympic Wrestling movement?

Well I was a wrestler in Jr. high and high school, and it’s been a really important part of my life. Really informative, and a lot of the things I learned at that time ended up helping me get to where I am today.

And you seem to be pretty popular among the community.

I was just cast in Bennett Miller’s new film Foxcatcher playing David Schulz, so I really got to know this community in a much deeper way. And when I heard the IOC was seriously considering pulling wrestling off its core roster of sports, I thought it was a real shame. So when they were asking for some help I wanted to throw my hat in the ring to and help in any way I could.

But it’s one thing to say you’ll help and another to make an appearance.

I wanted to give back. I came to know guys like Gene Mills, who’s a hero of mine, quite a great deal during the film. And all of these great American wrestlers and Olympic champions were coming in to support us. So I met guys like Bruce Baumgartner, John Guira, and Jesse Jantzen, who was my coach for the role. And I just became friends with all of them during the six months we were working on the film.

What does an event like this and an atmosphere like this do for wrestling?

It’s great. There’s a lot of passion here. There’s a lot of old-timers here, and fans from all over the U.S., Iran, Russia, and the world. I think these kinds of events are going to do a lot to reawaken people to the beauty of the sport and the importance of the sport, and actually the history of the sport. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s one of the original Olympic events.

Do you expect wrestling to be back in 2020?

Hopefully. Ultimately this is going to be a really good thing for wrestling. I kind of see these setbacks as an opportunity for growth and refocusing. I already think the changes they’ve made in FILA and the international scene are really going to help. And it’s a good chance to reintroduce wrestling to the world.

What about sports like squash that want their chance in the Olympics?

I think they’re great and should definitely be considered. But there’s this kind of seniority that should be honored. The Olympics has a great sense of tradition, and I think it’s amazing when they bring in new sports. But how many sports have survived 2000 years? Every athlete should have their chance to compete in the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean wrestling needs to be kicked out.

Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban