By the Associated Press
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee cut wrestling from the program for the 2020 Olympics on Tuesday, a stunning rebuke for a sport that goes back to the inaugural modern games in 1896 and has produced such champions as Russian great Alexander Karelin.
While modern pentathlon was widely considered the sport most at risk, the IOC executive board surprisingly voted to remove wrestling instead from the list of 25 “core” summer sports.
Missouri’s heavyweight wrestler Dom Bradley, left, took an Olympic redshirt to try to make the USA Olympic team for the 2012 Games.
The board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program. Eliminating one sport allows the committee to add a new sport to the program later this year.
“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 called the decision an “aberration” against a founding event.
Known by its French initials FILA, the sport’s governing body said it was “greatly astonished” by the IOC executive board decision.
Past and present Olympic champions in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling called the rejection “mind-boggling” and a “tragedy” for the sport.
“FILA will take all necessary measures to convince the IOC Executive Board and IOC members of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games,” said FILA, which is based near the Olympic home city of Lausanne.
Adams said the decision was made by secret ballot over several rounds, with members voting each time on which sport should not be included in the core group. IOC President Jacques Rogge did not vote.
Wrestling was voted out from a final group that also included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey, officials familiar with the vote told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the voting details were not made public.
The final result surprised even the IOC members.
“I was shocked,” board member Rene Fasel of Switzerland said.
Wrestling, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, featured in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. It has produced such names as three-time Olympic gold medalist Karelin and American stars Bruce Baumgartner, Jeff Blatnick, Rulon Gardner and Jordan Burroughs.
Missouri wrestler Dom Bradley took last year off from studies in order to pursue a spot in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Bradley did not make the Olympic team.
Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year’s London Olympics. Women’s wrestling was added to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games. Russians dominated the London podium, but Iran and Azerbaijan also had strong performances.
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, and combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting.
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 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 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 session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Here’s a look at some other sports that have come and gone from the Olympic program:
• Baseball: Became an Olympic sport in 1992 but was dropped after the 2008 Beijing Games. Baseball, together with softball, will be trying to get back on the program for the 2020 Games.
• Cricket: Played once, at the 1900 Paris Games.
• Croquet: Played once, also at the 1900 Paris Games.
• Golf: Was played at the 1900 and 1904 Games, and will return to the Olympic program for the 2016 Rio Games.
• Jeu de Paume: A forerunner of modern tennis, the sport was played at the 1908 London Games.
• Lacrosse: Played in 1904 and 1908.
• Motor Boating: Competed once, at the 1908 London Games.
• Pelota Basque: Although the game appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1968 and 1992 Olympics, it was officially on the program only for the 1900 Paris Games.
• Polo: The sport of polo has come and gone, first appearing in 1900, and later in 1908, ‘20 and ‘24. It was dropped for two Olympics but returned for the 1936 Berlin Games.
• Rackets: A precursor to squash, rackets was played at the 1908 London Games. Squash is one of the sports vying for inclusion for the 2020 Games.
• Rugby: Held four times between 1900 and 1924, rugby will return to the program in 2016, but with a smaller, seven-per-side version. The United States is the defending champion.
• Softball: Came into the games in 1996 and was dropped after the 2008 Games. Japan won the 2008 gold medal after the United States won the first three.
• Tug of War: On the program from 1900-1920.