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Wrestling makes short list for Olympic inclusion

U.S. freestyle wrestler Obe Blanc, left, and Iran's

U.S. freestyle wrestler Obe Blanc, left, and Iran's Hassan Rahimi grapple during an exhibition wrestling match at Grand Central Terminal. (May 15, 2013) Credit: AP

A February recommendation by the International Olympic Committee's executive board to throw wrestling out of the Games after 2016 essentially was put on hold Wednesday by the same panel, which voted to include the sport, along with baseball/softball and squash, on a short list of consideration for the 2020 and 2024 Olympics.

The full 101-person IOC general assembly will make a final decision in September to accept one of those three (baseball/softball is a combined bid) as a "provisional sport" in the two Olympic programs that follow the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

"I'm very relieved, very pleased for the sport," said Jim Scherr, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist who chairs the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling that was formed after the February IOC decree that shocked his sport. "But this is only the first step. We must convince the general assembly that wrestling deserves to remain on the program."

Eight sports -- the other five were karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and the Chinese martial art of wushu -- made presentations to the 15-member executive board at Wednesday's IOC meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. USA Wrestling federation executive director Rich Bender said during an international teleconference that his sport was put forward for the September vote on the board's first ballot.

Scherr acknowledged that the IOC's suggestion three months ago to drop wrestling, which has a 3,000-year Olympic history, prompted a series of widespread changes that "were probably 20 years overdue."

The Swiss president of the sport's international governing body, FILA, immediately received a no-confidence vote and resigned, and changes were implemented in the sport's constitution and its competitive rules.

Also, wrestling officials engaged in a massive campaign to better market and explain the sport and its international clout, including a recent exhibition match featuring American, Russian and Iranian wrestlers at Grand Central Terminal.

Scherr said that an attention to more fan-friendly and TV-friendly rules -- creating "more activity and more scoring, and which will remove stalling and remove chance," he said -- plus an emphasis on gender equity combined to convince the IOC board that wrestling is able to meet the IOC's "desire to modernize its sports program."

Wednesday's IOC vote merely was "the semifinals" in wrestling's effort to re-establish its presence in the Olympics, FILA vice president Stan Dziedzic said. "We need to win the finals" at the September vote. But he and Bender said wrestling's arguments to have their sport chosen over baseball/softball and squash would not use "negative" references to those other sports.

Rather, Bender said, they will cite the "relevancy of wrestling to the Olympic movement." They will present wrestling, Dziedzic said, for "its true meritocracy. Two equal-sized contestants, armed with nothing but their wit and will, is as true a meritocracy as we have."

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