Wrestling’s chances of 2020, 2024 Olympic inclusion
The International Olympic Committee will make the second of three major votes at its session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sunday.
Nearly 100 IOC members will choose one of three sports — baseball/softball, squash and wrestling — for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics from 11-11:45 a.m. Eastern time. For more on what happens Sunday, click here.
OlympicTalk will look at each sport’s pitch. Here is a rundown of wrestling:
Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs gets one question more than any other from young, impressionable wrestlers.
Will wrestling be back in the Olympics?
The definitive answer is about to come down, seven months after wrestling was recommended to be dropped from the Games. Burroughs, 25, fought hard to capture gold in London, winning four matches in one day. He joined a different fight on Feb. 12, when he saw a BBC World News report of wrestling’s axing in a hotel near a German airport where he had a layover en route to Iran for a competition.
“I spent a bunch of time after the Olympic Games telling kids around the nation that if they dream, if they work hard and sacrifice, they can be an Olympic champion as well,” he said in a phone interview. "(After Feb. 12), I told everyone to stay optimistic, continue to work hard. The big picture is, regardless of whether the Olympics continue to keep wrestling or not, it’s still a really great sport.”
Wrestling has long been at the heart at the Olympic movement, which is what made February’s news so shocking. Some thought modern pentathlon would have been dropped. Instead, the IOC executive board tapped a sport that dates to the ancient Olympics and has been part of the Olympic program at every modern Games except 1900.
Wrestling’s leaders knew all hope was not lost. In May, the IOC would pick three sports as finalists to fill the opening. In September, it would choose the replacement. Wrestling was eligible to try to get its spot back without missing any Games.
Since February, its international federation (FILA) made sweeping changes and campaigned vigorously. “Keep Olympic Wrestling” and “Save Olympic Wrestling” became mottos at special events where the U.S. and wrestling powers Iran and Russia united.
Swiss Raphael Martinetti resigned as FILA president in February. Nenad Lalovic of Serbia came in and brought the sport to where it is today, a favorite to stay in the Games. The Associated Press dubbed its chances “a virtual lock” to beat baseball-softball and squash.
What could hold wrestling back? Voters may want fresh blood in the Games, or they may not want to reverse February’s decision.
Lalovic, described as a chain smoker, burly and charismatic by media, was asked to rate his confidence level this week.
“Confidence, that’s a hard word,” he said in a phone interview. “Anyway, I’m optimistic, keeping in mind we’ve done everything possible for our sport, for this sport, in six months.”
The changes included a move toward gender equality, recommended by the IOC. It added two weight classes to women’s freestyle, cutting one men’s freestyle and one men’s Greco-Roman class. That makes six classes each for the three disciplines. The scoring system and rules were also simplified.
Retired Olympic wrestlers joined Hollywood celebrities and stars from other spots in supporting the cause. Like 2000 Olympic champion Rulon Gardner, whose work included an appearance with 2008 Olympic champion Henry Cejudo on “The Tonight Show” with wrestling supporter Jay Leno in March.
Gardner said this week he had zero confidence going into the vote, not that he thinks wrestling will lose but because he’s staying cautious.
“I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I know some people are like, ‘Oh yeah, no problem, we’re in.’ Uh-uh.”
Burroughs’ immediate plans won’t change after he sees the IOC decision Sunday. He’ll return to the mat in preparation for another transatlantic flight next week. Destination Budapest, Hungary, for the World Championships.
“I’ll be watching very closely,” Burroughs said. “I know all the wrestling fans will be posted by their computers, by their laptops, waiting for the decision to be made.”