Quartet of women grapplers could become fan favorites in U.S.
Posted: Wednesday August 11, 2004 7:54PM; Updated: Thursday August 12, 2004 3:50PM
The early line from Athens says that America's four women wrestlers will be our new darlings of these Games.
"Darling" is an unfamiliar term for Patricia Miranda (48 kilograms or 105.5 pounds), Tela O'Donnell (55 kg, 121), Sara McMann (63kg, 138.75) and Toccara Montgomery (72kg, 158.5), who over the years have been called "insane," "attention-grabbing," "boy-crazy," and, the ever-popular "dyke."
What the people who really didn't like them said was worse. But now women's wrestling is a recognized Olympic sport for the first time, and years of battling males, school boards, league rules, arrogance, ignorance and even resistance from within their own wrestling hierarchy will be forgotten when they compete under the Olympic banner on Aug. 22 and 23rd.
The massive amount of attention the quartet received on Tuesday at their group press conference was analogous to that accorded the women weightlifters four years ago in Sydney when that sport was new to the Games. They weightlifters haven't exactly been forgotten, but they have been pushed to the side by these four arm-barrers and ankle-lifters.
See, we in the media are consistent in this regard: We ignore something as it grows, then we suddenly discover it en masse and proclaim it the story of the day, then we ignore it again when something else comes along. These four women are smart enough to know that, of course -- Miranda, for example, put off entry to Yale Law School to go for Olympic gold -- but they also know that the middle phase is infinitely preferable to the other two.
On Wednesday they displayed candor, charm, humor, intelligence and passion, words that I don't remember using too frequently of late when describing, say, the U.S. men's basketball team. And it wasn't always easy. Within the sporting press there is a legitimate ignorance about women's wrestling and a morbid curiosity about what it was like to have wrestled against males, which is how all of these women started.
"Did you ever date somebody you beat?" O'Donnell was asked. Can you imagine the stupidity of that question? Well, I can because I asked it.
I couldn't help it. I'm a fan of wrestling, understand it and covered it extensively years ago, but one thinks about these things because the sport, as woman-against-woman competition, is in its relative infancy. The best women's basketball players, for example, usually get better because they work out against men, but their primary competition, from, say, junior high on, was woman-against-woman. In all cases, these four competed against men throughout high school and often into college. It's still that way in most states.
It's not only the gender questions that dog them. There is also what Miranda calls "the sideshow-mud wrestling" curiosity from people who don't even acknowledge that wrestling exists beyond the sphere of Vince McMahon.
Male wrestlers face that, too, and they're competing in the oldest Olympic sport. But America's new Fab Four knows it has a real chance to alter perceptions. McMann says that when she tells people she's a wrestler she can see the surprise in their eyes because they're expecting "an ogre-looking, hunchbacked thing."
Their time is now, and they know it, not just because they are charmers in a cauliflower-ear sport but also because they all have a chance to medal. None would be called a gold-medal favorite, but Montgomery, McMann and Miranda (in that order) have a chance, and O'Donnell, an unpredictable scrambler, can't be counted out.
Oh, O'Donnell's answer to the question I mentioned earlier? "No, I never did. But that's not to say I wouldn't."