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.

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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