By Luke Meredith
The Associated Press
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and his fiance nervously awaited word Sunday on whether wrestling would be reinstated as an Olympic sport.
For the Burroughs in Lincoln, Neb., and many others in the American wrestling community, the web stream of the International Olympic Committee’s historic vote from Buenos Aires was one of the most stressful experiences of their lives.
“It was like the most suspenseful movie I’ve ever seen,” Burroughs told The Associated Press.
Tension quickly turned to jubilation for Burroughs and other wrestlers across the world.
After seven months fighting to preserve its Olympic status, wrestling was reinstated for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Wrestling, which was dropped from the list of core sports in February, received 49 votes to win in the first round of secret balloting by the International Olympic Committee. Baseball-softball got 24 votes and squash received 22.
According to wrestling great Dan Gable, the IOC’s original recommendation turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Faced with Olympic elimination, wrestling finally embraced the change the IOC had long demanded.
“Had we not been kicked out seven months ago, we would have been seven months deeper in a hole that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to dig out of,” Gable said from a watch party at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. “For me it was like, if we would have lost (Sunday), it would have been two losses in seven months. And all of a sudden it becomes a pattern, and a pattern of losses becomes a disaster.”
USA Wrestling helped avert such a disaster, reacting quickly to the IOC’s recommendation by forming the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling.
According to chairman Bill Scherr, the group was instrumental in helping focus an international effort to reshape the sport.
Within weeks, the Americans were working alongside nations such as Russia and Iran to help FILA, the international governing body, craft their strategy for both a key IOC meeting in Russia in May and Sunday’s final vote.
FILA president Raphael Martinetti resigned and was replaced by Serbian Nenad Lalvoic. The sport also added a pair of weight classes for women — taking one each away from men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines — and tweaked the rules to reward aggressive and more appealing wrestling.
The best-of-three periods format was also scrapped in favor of two, three-minute frames with cumulative scoring. The unpopular ball draw format to start overtime was also scrapped.
“We have to stay true to the commitment of making the sport easy to understand...we have to remain committed to ensure the sport is fair,” USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said. “We have to make sure we have a television-friendly product.”
Scherr said that USA Wrestling will continue to look at changes in the months ahead, including tweaks to the presentation of the sport along with possible changes to uniforms and venues.
Several changes were enacted, and Burroughs is among those who believe the new rules have already made the sport more exciting.
USA Wrestling has vowed to keep improving the sport so there’s no concern about its Olympic future.
“It’s just a start. But it’s a good start,” Gable said.