Wrestling reprieve a boost for Victoria's Anaka

Wrestling’s bid to remain in the Summer Olympics will take 2016 Rio hopeful Stacie Anaka of Victoria to the unique Battle at the Falls mat tournament Friday at the base of Niagara Falls, where Canadian team wrestlers will compete against those from the U.S. and Ukraine.

It follows the Rumble on the Rails wrestling tournament between the U.S., Russia and Iran earlier this month in the middle of Grand Central Station in New York City as the sport is utilizing familiar but dramatic backdrops in its publicity blitz to remain in the Summer Olympics beyond 2016.

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Wrestling received a reprieve from the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday in St. Petersburg when the IOC executive board voted to short-list wrestling, baseball/softball and squash for the 2020 Summer Games. Which one of those sports will be on the agenda for 2020 will be decided during a vote of the entire IOC membership Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, the same day the IOC decides between Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid as the 2020 host.

“It was good news [to be short-listed]. It’s less of a worry now,” said Anaka, who began wrestling as an eight-year-old in coach Ed Ashmore’s Victoria Bulldogs Club.

She said wrestling has been part of the Olympics from the very beginning and has everything the IOC looks for in a sport.

“It’s a sport done around the world, it’s easy to pick up and learn, and you don’t need much equipment,” said Anaka, the 2007 world junior bronze medallist, who was B.C. high school champion through Grades 10-12 while wrestling for the Reynolds Roadrunners mat team.

“It requires everything — flexibility, strength and endurance.”

Anaka is looking forward to being part of Friday’s bouts in Niagara Falls — which will be contested under the sport’s sweeping new rules designed to reward attacking, offensive wrestling — and which were instigated recently by the sport’s governing body FILA in order to sway the IOC.

“I’m excited. It’s quite an honour to be selected for that tournament,” she said.

Wrestling has been a steady and reliable medal earner for Canada in the Summer Olympics with the likes of gold-medallists Daniel Igali, who famously defected from Nigeria in Victoria at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Carol Huynh from Hazelton and three-time medallist Tonya Verbeek of Ontario.

Anaka is considered among the next generation rising on the Canadian mats. The 25-year-old has a recent degree in health sciences from SFU and will represent Canada in July at the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia. Anaka won gold last weekend by going 4-0 in the 67-kilo class at the German Grand Prix in Dormagen. Ranked 10th in the world, Anaka defeated world top-five ranked Russians Iuliia Bartnovskaya and Svetlana Babushkina in the semifinals and final, respectively.

“Stacie beat the Russians who were ranked No. 4 and No. 5 in the world and is moving forward and has really progressed,” said Canadian women’s team head coach Leigh Vierling.

“If she continues to progress, Stacie will definitely be on the Olympic team for Rio. And if you make our Olympic team, you are a medal threat.”

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