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Wrestling wins vote to remain part of Olympic program

Jacob Varner of the United States, right, battled during his gold medal victory in a 1-0, 1-0 match against Ukraine's Valerii Andriitsev, left, in the mens' 96kg freestyle final at the ExCeL centre during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England, Sunday, August 12, 2012. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT)
Jacob Varner of the United States, right, battled during his gold medal victory in a 1-0, 1-0 match against Ukraine’s Valerii Andriitsev, left, in the mens’ 96kg freestyle final at the ExCeL centre during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England, Sunday, August 12, 2012. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Wrestling will be included as a provisional sport in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games. That announcement came today from IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge at the 125th Session of the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

International dignitaries from the sports of wrestling, squash, and baseball-softball, made their final presentation for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic programs Sunday morning.

The IOC then took a vote, and wrestling prevailed with 49 of the possible 95 votes to secure the 28th and final position in the Olympic programs. The joint bid from baseball-softball received 24 votes, while squash received 22.

“I’ve always thought, with divine intervention, we were going to be in good shape, because Jacob wrestled the angel,” said University of Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands. “It’s a sport close to God’s heart. I believe that. I believe there was divine intervention, and I believe that we had a great vision, from the second that we heard, with Jim and Bill Sheer and the CPOW group. I think it was awesome. I think they had a vision that was untouchable.”

“I’m just happy and excited to say that wrestling, if we hadn’t won this vote, we wouldn’t have given up,” said former UI head coach Dan Gable. “It would’ve been harder to move forward than it is now because we won the vote. It’s always easier to work on success than defeat. However, every once in a while there is a defeat, and we felt that our defeat was in February when they threw us out. The work has been done. It has us on an edge, not a big edge, but it’s really where do we go from here to make this sport a top five core sport. We’re not in the core, so we have a long ways to go.”

Earlier Sunday, the IOC accepted the recommendation from its executive committee to not include wrestling among its core sports, a decision that was first announced Feb. 12. That decision led to today’s presentations by the provisional sports candidates – wrestling, squash, baseball-softball.

Gable and Terry Brands were among members of the UI wrestling program gathered inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena to witness the presentations and watch the final announcement live from Argentina.

“It’s huge news,” said NCAA champion Derek St. John. “Obviously it’s huge, or there wouldn’t be a lot of people here. It’s big for the future of wrestling from the college level, all the way down to little kids, and all the way up to the Olympic Games. It’s huge for the future of the sport.”

“We’re a better sport now than we were in February and I think the IOC recognized that with today’s decision,” said UI head coach Tom Brands, who is in Belarus coaching Team USA in advance of the World Championships. “I’m glad the vote turned out the way it did, and I credit our new governing body and the people who fought for inclusion for getting the job done. The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of our sport. I believe that, and the response from around the world confirmed it.”

“I’m thrilled with today’s decision by the IOC,” said UI Director of Athletics Gary Barta. “I believe today’s announcement indicates the IOC recognizes wrestling’s importance to the Olympic Games and its significance around the world. I think the sport is stronger now than it was in February, and I’m elated to learn our student-athletes, and future generation of wrestlers, will have the opportunity to someday compete for Olympic medals. I would also like to congratulate Dan Gable, Coach Tom Brands, and all of those individuals involved in the sport of wrestling, who worked so diligently, and successfully, towards this goal.”

Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. The IOC decided on Saturday to award the 2020 games to Tokyo. Wrestling will have six weight classes for women’s freestyle in 2016, up from four classes in 2012. Men’s Greco-Roman and men’s freestyle will also compete in six weight classes, down from seven classes in 2012. The push for gender equity was part of wrestling’s makeover and a key in its reinstatement campaign.

“I want to offer my sincere gratitude to each member of the International Olympic Committee that voted to save Olympic wrestling today,” said Nenad Lalovic, the President of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA). “With this vote, you have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference. I assure each of you that our modernization will not stop now. We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic Movement that we can be.”

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