Before the awe, Olympic wrestler Tervel Dlagnev experienced the shock.
On his way to Iran for the 2013 Freestyle World Cup, the Bulgarian-born grappler had a layover in Florida.
“We checked into a hotel, turn on the TV and heard it on the news,” he said. “We were shocked.”
It was the announcement that the Olympics had dropped wrestling, one of the eldest competitions, from the 2020 Games.
“It kind of blindsided everyone,” Dlagnev said. “We’ve been on conference calls going through the changes. There’s a lot of efforts and rules changes happening.”
He still holds out hope that the decision will be reversed.
“There’s a lot of positivity,” Dlagnev said, “but at the end of the day we’re at the mercy of the IOC. So it’s still stressful.”
In Iran, he lost just one match to Komeil Ghasemi, his self-proclaimed rival. While overseas, he also took part in the USA team trials that were held in Belarus.
Dlagnev, who wrestled collegiately for Nebraska and now lives in Columbus, was in Youngstown for the 15th annual Ohio Junior High State Wrestling Tournament. He estimates that he signed 1,000 autographs for young and old fans, alike.
“This is a blast,” he said. “It’s in our contract to do things like this, but I’d do it in my spare time. It’s always fun and I’m always down for it.
“It’s a joy just to talk to kids about wrestling. I wish I could go inside and actually sit and watch some. I’m impressed by a lot of these kids. Ohio is at an impressive level of wrestling at the youth age and it’s important that they’re positive and stay encouraged.”
Members of the Canfield Wrestling Club share Dlagnev’s intentions and demonstrate it proudly.
They sport gray sweatshirts with “Save Wrestling” and the Olympic rings stitched on the back.
“It’s a great sport,” said Steve Pitts, a Canfield assistant coach and 2004 graduate of CHS. “I’ve wrestled from the time I was 5 through high school and I’m so glad to be back coaching.
“Wrestling isn’t the most popular sport, obviously, but you see the talent out there and crowds of this size coming to watch is just amazing.”
Dlagnev, a native of Sofia, Bulgaria, attended high school in Texas and twice placed in its state championships. In 2009 he won a bronze medal at the World Freestyle Championships and won gold at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara.
He wrestles at 120-kilograms (264 pounds). Dlagnev formed a relationship with J.D. Bergman, an NCAA runner-up at Ohio State which is how he ended up in Columbus.
“It’s a great place to train, especially for us big guys,” the 27-year old said. “I’m still training and gunning for a spot on the 2016 Rio team.”