By FRANK LITSKY
Amateur wrestling, perhaps the simplest and purest of all sports, has been shaken by the deaths of three college wrestlers in six weeks. The deaths, all of which occurred during strenuous weight-loss workouts, have set off a national debate over training techniques, the use of controversial nutritional supplements and the risks involved in sudden, large-scale weight loss.
''These deaths may be coincidences, but they are not being ignored or taken lightly,'' said Gary Abbott, a spokesman for the sport's national governing body, USA Wrestling. The organization held a national conference call on Tuesday night to discuss the issues with wrestling and medical experts.
Since then, the discussions have extended to the Federal Government and local law-enforcement authorities. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration said it would assign investigators to determine whether the use of certain nutritional substances, many of which are available over the counter, may have contributed to the three deaths. That same day, prosecutors in Ann Arbor, Mich., said they were deciding whether to file charges in one of the deaths, which occurred at the University of Michigan.
All of this scrutiny comes at a time when amateur wrestling, which may have as many as 750,000 participants nationwide, is already under siege on the financial front. Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination at any school receiving Federal aid, has led to a subsidization of intercollegiate women's sports and major cutbacks in college wrestling programs, from 788 schools in 1982 to 247 last year.