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.

Diana Taurasi opens door for 2020 Olympics

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Diana Taurasi may not be done with the U.S. national team after all.

The four-time Olympic champion “hopes to play through the 2020 Summer Games,” according to ESPN.com.

Taurasi, 34, said playing at Tokyo 2020 “would be incredible” after speaking with U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan about her Team USA future earlier this month, according to the Arizona Republic. Taurasi recently signed a multiyear extension with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, though the exact contract length wasn’t disclosed.

“It would be probably the biggest accomplishment if I can make it to five Olympics, but that’s so far down the road,” Taurasi said, according to the newspaper. “I’ve always said I’m really worried about these next couple of months with Phoenix then I’ll regroup and talk to USA Basketball again.

“There’s so many great young player that if it’s time to move on and go that direction, that’s great. If they want me to around to help and win another gold medal, I’ll do anything they want me to do.”

New U.S. coach Dawn Staley, an Olympic teammate of Taurasi’s in 2004, said in March that her gut feeling was that Taurasi would return for Tokyo 2020.

Taurasi said in August, right after the Rio final, that she had likely played her last Olympic game, ending her career 32-0 at the Olympics.

“This was probably my last one,” Taurasi said on NBCSN. “I’ll have a talk about it with coach, but, for right now, I’m settled with four, and I feel good about it.”

If Taurasi plays at Tokyo 2020, she can match Teresa Edwards‘ American record of playing in five Olympic basketball tournaments. (So can Sue Bird, who is two years older than Taurasi but hasn’t committed to a 2020 run.)

Taurasi can also take aim at the U.S. Olympic basketball scoring record of 488 points held by Lisa Leslie. Taurasi is in second place with 379 points after Rio. She would need to average 13.7 points per game to surpass Leslie in Tokyo, assuming the U.S. plays its usual eight games. Taurasi averaged a career-high 15.6 in Rio.

Taurasi will be 38 years old in 2020. The oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player of all time was Tamika Catchings, who turned 37 two weeks before the Rio Games. Catchings has retired.

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MORE: Dawn Staley to coach U.S. women at Tokyo 2020

Julia Mancuso pushes past hip injury for final Olympic run

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When Julia Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor told the ski racer that she needed to make a choice.

Continue competing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17) or live a healthy life.

Mancuso was born with hip displaysia, a misalignment of hip bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal. The doctor told Mancuso she needed reconstructive surgery.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso went to the slopes instead.

In 15 years since that doctor’s visit, she put together one of the greatest Alpine careers in U.S. history — four Olympic medals (most by a U.S. female skier), five world championships medals and 36 World Cup podiums.

The right hip problems persisted. Mancuso did undergo hip surgery after her breakthrough Olympic giant slalom title in 2006.

The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. When she returns to the World Cup circuit this fall, Mancuso will have gone more than two and a half years between races.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said last month. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

Because of her hip, Mancuso said PyeongChang will be her fifth and final Olympics, should she make it there. She might not compete beyond next season.

The U.S. women’s speed team is deep — Lindsey Vonn, World Cup podium finishers Laurenne Ross, Jackie Wiles and Stacey Cook, the young Breezy Johnson. Even Mikaela Shiffrin dabbles. A maximum of four women per nation can start an Olympic race.

The super combined, where Mancuso earned silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, appears to be her best shot.

Mancuso is nothing if not dedicated, evidenced by Instagram Stories workout diaries. This complements her laid-back lifestyle, spending half her time in Fiji with her husband of five months and much of the other half in Maui.

She already has post-PyeongChang plans, to honeymoon in Tonga and dive with whales.

Before that, Mancuso hopes to have one more surprise Olympic season.

In 2006, she made her first World Cup podium two weeks before the Torino Winter Games, then won the giant slalom in Torino.

In 2010, she took silver in the Vancouver downhill and super combined despite making zero World Cup podiums in the previous two years.

In 2014, Mancuso snagged combined bronze thanks to the fastest downhill run in Sochi. That came during a season where her best World Cup finish was seventh.

Just making the Olympic team would mean history. No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games. Mancuso, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall can become the first.

Mancuso could also become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

“I’m excited to put my biggest and last effort into these next Olympics,” Mancuso said, “and then see what happens.”

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