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Olympic Wrestling Rules and Judging

Read the following to get a grip on the basics

By Ron Dicker


Skimming the Surface

The mat, according to FILA, must be "homologated." That's a fancy word for certified. The grappling takes place within a 7-meter-wide circle ringed by a 1-meter red band known as the passivity zone. Retreating there will likely get a wrestler penalized for not attempting moves.

Who's on Call?

Three officials preside over Olympic wrestling matches: the referee, the judge and the mat chairman. The referee initiates the assessment of points, passivity, penalties and cautions, but two of the three officials have to agree on a call for it to stand. If a consensus proves elusive, they can always go to the replay.

Cut and Dry

Olympic wrestling has more hygiene rules than a cotillion. Wrestlers must be either clean-shaven or have full beards that won't scratch like a 5 o'clock shadow. No headgear, heavy bandages or braces are allowed, unless a wrestler can prove an injury or show a doctor's note. Any metal in a competitor's shoes, including buckles and nailed soles, is prohibited, and shoelaces must be taped. Forget the jewelry and hair thingumajiggies, too.

Perspiring at the start just isn't civilized; wrestlers must enter the ring dry. Plus, they can't be swathed in petroleum jelly or any other compound that might make their bodies slippery.

The Scoring

A wrestler cannot win a match with a menacing scowl alone. A competitor must either pin an opponent's shoulders to the mat or simply outscore him. Or, an opponent can save a wrestler the trouble by getting injured, withdrawing, defaulting or getting disqualified. The same basic rules for scoring apply for both freestyle and Greco-Roman, except for the restrictions on the use of the legs and fighting below the waist in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Takedowns and other technical points (reversals and exposures) are scored from 1 to 5. If a wrestler has 6 points more than his or her opponent, technical superiority is declared, and the bout is stopped. The most crowd-pleasing way to collect 5 points is a takedown of "grand amplitude." One example is when a wrestler thrusts his opponent off the mat head over heels, forcing him into a back-exposed "danger position," or very close to a fall. Three points are awarded for a similar kind of throw or "short amplitude" move that makes a wrestler land on the stomach or side, but not in a "danger position" immediately vulnerable to a pin. A wrestler can receive 2 points if he is illegally held. One point goes to a wrestler who forces an opponent down onto the stomach or side without exposing back or shoulders to the mat. A reversal, in which a wrestler on the ground becomes the aggressor on top, also scores a point, as does a wrestler whose opponent steps out of bounds. If someone thwarts a takedown or other scoring move illegally, the points are given to the attacking wrestler as though the move were successful. This sometimes happens in Greco-Roman, when a wrestler avoids being thrown by using his legs to block the attack.

If a maneuver out of the rulebook injures an opponent to the point that he cannot continue, the cited wrestler is disqualified. But in a fair fight, a medical forfeit can be enforced against the injured wrestler. In addition to debilitating joint and muscle injuries, an athlete may not be able to stop vomiting or bleeding profusely, or may ask for too many injury timeouts.

Classification Points

Once a match is over, these are the points that really count, because they determine a wrestler's rank within the pool or mini-bracket. In a match decided by a fall, the winner gets 4, the loser 0. A match decided by technical superiority with the loser scoreless is 4-0 for the winner or, if the loser had scored at least one technical point, 4-1. Winners by score get 3 points, the losers 1. If the winner shuts out the loser, it's 3-0. Withdrawals, defaults and disqualifications are all 4 points for the winners and none for the losers.

The Absolute No-No's

Choke holds, leg-scissors, pinching, biting, crotch-grabbing and any kind of lock that threatens the neck and spine are verboten. The referee issues a warning and orders the offending wrestler into the par terre position. Three cautions amount to a disqualification. If the foul is flagrant enough, the offender can be ejected immediately.

Don't Be Tardy

Wrestlers must be prompt for their matches. Their names are called three times to step up to the mat. If by then they haven't shown up, it's a no-go.

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LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Ron Dicker is a New York-based freelance writer who covered sports for the New York Times from 1996 to 2005.
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