Tuesday, Feb 12 2013 09:37 AM

IOC drops wrestling from 2020 Olympics


LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- IOC leaders have dropped wrestling for the 2020 Games in a surprise decision to scrap one of the oldest sports on the Olympic program.

The IOC executive board decided Tuesday to retain modern pentathlon - the event considered most at risk - and remove wrestling instead from its list of core sports.

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Steve Varner, father of Olympian Jake Varner, had lots to say about the IOC's decision.

Jake, who won a gold medal in 96-kilogram freestyle wrestling at the 2012 London Olympic Games, is in Bulgaria right now for a tournament.

Here's what Steve Varner had to say:

"It was rumored that (wrestling) was going to be one considered (to be dropped). But actually doing it, with it being one of the founding Olympic sports, running and wrestling? I mean, these people are like rock stars in some countries. The Iranian team landed at the airport and it was like a giant mob scene."

"If anybody thinks the Olympic Committee is on the up and up, they're kidding themselves. It's political, and it's about money."

"I can't imagine there not being a backlash. Maybe they're waiting to see what the backlash will be or how much money some of these countries will stuff in their back pockets."

"To believe they actually thought this was what's best for the Olympics? I don't believe that for a second. They had to have an ulterior motive."

"You go around the world, and in some of those countries, Russia, Bulgaria, Iran, the --Stan countries, and if wrestling isn't the No. 1 sport, it's No. 2 behind soccer. So this is huge to those countries. I don't know if they're trying to get money from those countries, extort them, or what. But it doesn't make sense, picking on a high-profile sport like wrestling."

"It's interesting the next meeting is going to be in Russia. Going into Russia and taking away wrestling would be like going into the lion's den and kicking them in the teeth."

On effect this could have on youth/high school wrestling. (Note that high school and college wrestling in this country is "folkstyle," which is different from the Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling supported by the current Olympic structure):

"Obviously, it'll have an effect. How much of an effect, nobody knows. Maybe it means more offseason events (which are mostly freestyle) will all be collegiate."

"I mean, when they do the freestyle tournaments in offseason, they say, you're getting better and the goal is to be an Olympic champion. But how many guys actually aspire, train, set goals and stay on track to be an Olympian? It drops off dramatically after college, because it's so grueling. And after college, you've got to figure out how to live (financially). Aspirations to be an Olympic champion is not as prevalent as people think. It's like kids going out for track and field in high school or grammar school. They might say, 'Well, I'd like to be the 100-meter Olympic champion,' but realistically, they're not going to get a sniff of it."

The decision, announced by the IOC, was first reported by The Associated Press.

The IOC board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program. Eliminating one sport allows the International Olympic Committee to add a new sport to the program later this year.

Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, goes back to the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year's London Olympics. Bakersfield's Jake Varner was among the gold-medal winners at the London Games.

Wrestling will now join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. They will be vying for a single opening in 2020.

The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC general assembly in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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 program at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC program commission report analyzed more than three dozen criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. With no official rankings or recommendations contained in the report, the final decision by the 15-member board was also subject to political, emotional and sentimental factors.

Previously considered under the closest scrutiny was modern pentathlon, which has been on the Olympic program since the 1912 Stockholm Games. It was created by French baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement.

Modern pentathlon combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting - the five skills required of a 19th century cavalry officer. The sport's governing body, the UIPM, has been lobbying hard to protect its Olympic status, and the efforts apparently paid off.

UIPM President Klaus Schormann had considered traveling from Germany to Lausanne for the decision, but decided to stay away.

"The Olympic movement always needs history," Schormann told the AP ahead of the IOC decision. "You cannot just say we look only at the future. You can have a future when you are stable on the basic part of history. We are continuing to develop, to renovate, to be innovative and creative. We are very proud of what we achieved so far and want to deliver this as well for the next generations in 2020."

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