IOC leaders have dropped wrestling for the 2020 Games in a surprise decision to scrap one of the oldest sports on the Olympic program. / Paul Sancya, AP
Wrestling, part of the first modern Olympics and a U.S. strength, was shockingly cut from the Summer Games on Tuesday, beginning in 2020.
The International Olympic Committee was expected to cut the sport of modern pentathlon but instead decided to remove wrestling based on criteria such as global participation and popularity. At the IOC meetings in Switzerland, the executive board recommended that wrestling not be on the list of 25 core sports proposed for the 2020 Summer Games.
"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports."
Wrestling officials expressed shock Tuesday as word spread of the sport's elimination.
Cael Sanderson, 2004 Olympic champion and now the head coach at Penn State University, called the decision a "tragedy."
"It's the greatest event," Sanderson said of the Olympics. "It's the most prestigious and premier. It's the very top of the pyramid. It's the Super Bowl. It's only once every four years."
Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, said Tuesday's decision was made by "uninformed individuals" who don't understand the sport's Olympic value. And he wondered how much politics played a role.
"It comes obviously as a massive shock and surprise to not only our Olympic committee, but USA Wrestling and certainly our international federation," Bender said in a phone interview.
"We're one of the most diverse sports on the program, (with) almost 200 countries participating in our sports worldwide. We've reached every point of the globe, Asia, Middle East, Europe, North and South America."
Bender noted that neither the sport of wrestling nor the U.S. Olympic Committee are represented on the 15-member IOC executive board. Some of the board members hold positions in sport administration. For example, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., serves as vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union.
FILA, the international federation for wrestling, said in a statement that it was "greatly astonished" by the IOC executive board's recommendation. FILA said it would work to convince the IOC "of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games."
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The loss of wrestling is a huge blow to the USA, one of the most successful countries in Olympic wrestling, winning 124 medals. The USA had two gold medalists at last summer's London Games: Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner. Coleman Scott added bronze along with Clarissa Chun in women's freestyle. U.S. women have won four medals since women's wrestling was added to the 2004 Athens Games.
The former Soviet Union won 116 medals in the Olympics, and Russia 51.
USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement that he was surprised by the decision "given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality." Blackmun said the USOC hopes for a "meaningful opportunity" to discuss wrestling's role in the USA and around the world.
Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at the London Olympics.
Wrestling has a chance to be included in the 2020 Games, but that is likely a longshot so soon after Tuesday's announcement. It will now compete against seven other sports vying for Olympic inclusion: baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu. The federations of those sports will make presentations to the IOC's executive board in May and a decision will be made in September.
The last sports removed from the Olympics were baseball and softball, voted out by the IOC in 2005 and off the program since the 2008 Beijing Games. Golf and rugby will be joining the Games at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Wrestling is known as the world's oldest competitive sport. It dates to cave drawings found as far back as 3000 BC and was part of the ancient Olympics in 708 BC. When the modern Games resumed in 1896, wrestling was one of nine sports on the program.
Bender says USA Wrestling will work with the international federation to mount a lobbying and education effort around the sport.
"I think we now have an opportunity to tell the world about the values and importance of our sport," Bender said. "And obviously we're confident that we're going to be able to stay on the program for many years to come.
"The sports world is rallying around our sport right now. â?¦ We're just an incredibly diverse sport regardless of race, color, size. It's a really inclusive sport and I think one of the most important on the program."
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