“Wrestling? It’s very hard to explain,” Takhoyev said one evening in one of the big training halls of the Palace. A soft look came over his face. “I have these dreams in my head when I do it.”
Wrestling, when everything is going right, takes him away to some other place. Right there on the mat, his sweaty opponent filled with desire to dominate him, physically, strength matched to strength, Takhoyev dreams with serene clarity of throws or moves or feints that will enable him to win, and then the dream becomes real.
He grew up in the shadow of the Caucasus Mountains, in a region called North Ossetia, and he thought he wanted to be a soccer player. “But I was told every day: wrestling, wrestling, wrestling,” he said. “And then it sank in.” Since the age of 12, he has lived in Moscow, in a hostel run by the Palace of Wrestling, free of charge, molding the dream.
“You will hear this name,” Vladimir Ostroumov, the solid but diminutive director of what is officially called the Ivan Yarygin Palace of Wrestling, after a famous Soviet grappler, said of Takhoyev.
Ostroumov, whose last name means Sharpbrains, ought to know. Two of the Palace’s graduates won medals in London.
Rumors abounded for several years that wrestling — one of the original Olympic sports — might be in trouble. But when Ostroumov got the news that the IOC wants to scrap it starting in 2020, he had one thought: “a catastrophe.” Without the lure of Olympic participation, his sport would almost certainly wither away.
Wrestling officials from the great powers of the sport — Russia, Iran, the United States, Korea, Turkey and Azerbaijan — are joining together to try to get the decision overturned, and are optimistic. They have already forced out Raphael Martinetti, president of wrestling’s world governing body, FILA. Martinetti resigned Feb. 16, and Ostroumov and his colleagues here take that as a good sign.
Sagid Murtazaliev, a wrestler from Russia’s Dagestan region who won the heavyweight freestyle gold medal at Sydney in 2000, upped the pressure by returning his medal to the IOC in protest.
The Yarygin Palace, in Moscow’s Lefortovo district, is a six-story monument to the wrestler’s art, built in 2004 with three big training halls, a small training hall, a competition space, a gym, sauna, Turkish bath, acupuncture room and cafeteria. Its Museum of Wrestling dwells reverently on Soviet and Russian Olympic triumphs. And there have been
plenty — 63 gold medals since 1952. The Palace is far and away Russia’s most opulent school
for junior wrestlers, who start there at age 7.