THE deaths of three young wrestlers have forced the organisation that governs American intercollegiate athletes to crack down on risky training methods that were widely used to meet strict weight requirements for competition.
The action by the National Collegiate Athletic Association was seen as a response to growing public criticism of an apparent win-at-all-costs mentality among big-time university and college athletic programmes.
Three collegiate wrestlers - one each at Campbell University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan - died in quick succession in November and December last year after exercising strenuously in rubber suits in the hope that they could rapidly lose enough weight to qualify for upcoming competitions. They were the first fatalities in college wrestling since it became an NCAA sport in 1928.
Within a few weeks, the national body's wrestling committee banned several of the most common techniques used by college wrestlers to lose weight quickly, including self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, wearing vapour-impermeable suits made of rubber or rubberised nylon and exercising in a sauna. Previous rules recommended against, but did not prohibit, those practices.
Weigh-ins were moved to within two hours of a match, instead of the previous 24 hours, effectively preventing wrestlers from losing weight by drastic and debilitating methods and then recovering their strength in time to compete.
"We believe that these changes will promote a safe environment for our sport," said Mike Moyer, the committee's chairman and a coach at George Mason University.
Next month, Mr Moyer said, the wrestling committee will consider additional "long-term changes that ideally will allow wrestlers to focus on competition rather than on making weight".