CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Wrestling earned another period to compete for its future.
The International Olympic Committee announced during Wednesday's teleconference in St. Petersburg, Russia, that wrestling, baseball and softball and squash have been recommended for a final vote to be included in the 2020 Olympic Games. The three made a short list of eight sports that made private presentations to the IOC Executive Board before the announcement.
The rest of the field included karate, rollersports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu. Each sport gave a 30-minute presentation, followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer period.
"The Executive Board received excellent presentations today from eight International Federations," IOC President Jacques Rogge said after the announcement. "It was never going to be an easy decision but I feel my colleagues on the Board made a good decision in selecting baseball/softball, squash and wrestling to be put forward in Buenos Aires. I wish the three shortlisted sports the best of luck in the run-up to the vote in September and would like to thank the other sports for their hard work and dedication."
The news was welcome by wrestling officials, but also served as a reminder the mission has not been accomplished, yet.
"While our place in the Olympic Games is still not guaranteed," FILA President Nenad Lalovic said in a statement, "this decision recognizes the great lengths to which we are going to reform our sport and address the IOC's concerns."
Legendary University of Iowa Coach and FILA Hall of Fame wrestler Dan Gable, who won a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, has been at the forefront of the fight to keep wrestling in the Olympics. In a phone interview with The Gazette, he said representatives of each sport have to keep presenting the best case possible.
"We still aren't where we need to be, yet," said Gable, refusing to say "if" wrestling earns its place in the Olympics. "When we do get in, we have to keep improving. That's the nature of what you're supposed to be doing anyway. You have to continue to show you deserve to be in there."
Wrestling advances to another vote by the IOC on Sept. 7. The IOC will consider the recommendations made in February and then determine a provisional sport to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games.
"First of all, the IOC session has to approve the decision of February of the Executive Board of the proposed 25 (core) sports," said Rogge, noting that, if approved, they will select the provisional sport for inclusion.
Rogge did not comment on the Executive Board's decision in February. He said they followed a list of criteria and came up with their conclusion.
"It's always difficult to choose 25 and include a 26th," Rogge said. "This was the decision of the Executive Board. We had 99 elements of judgement..."
Ideally, wrestling would be reinstated as a core sport in the next three months. The possibility exists, allowing one of the other sports to be added as a provisional contest. The provisional process originated to give sports a chance to prove their merit to be included and not to be filled by a sport that was already embedded in the Olympics.
"It's hard to put your finger on what's going on right now," Gable said. "This whole thing was created for sports, who wanted to be in the Olympics that weren't and to work their way in.
"All of a sudden, they took wrestling out. It's interesting that they put wrestling in and they don't really create an opportunity for another sport."
If wrestling was granted provisional status, it would be a positive for the sport, but not for the system, according to Gable. The future is not quite clear, even though wrestling seems to have cleared a hurdle.
"It's a little scary where it's at right now, but that doesn't mean they couldn't alter the system a bit," said Gable, adding, "They can change the rules whenever they want to get together and change the rules."
The momentary victory was celebrated by many in Iowa.
"The IOC's recommendation is a step forward for keeping wrestling where it belongs: as part of the Olympic program," Iowa Representative Bruce Braley said in a statement. "Wrestling is among the oldest Olympic sports, dating to the games of the ancient Greeks. Iowans are rightfully proud of our state's long history of wrestling excellence.
"The IOC's decision in February to drop it from the Olympic Games was arbitrary and I hope today's news signifies that the IOC has heard the outcry among wrestlers, coaches, and fans from Iowa and across the world."