LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The IOC 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.
The 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.
"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."
The decision was made by secret ballot over four rounds, with 14 members voting each time on which sport should not be included in the core group. IOC President Jacques Rogge did not vote.
Three sports were left in the final round wrestling, field hockey and modern pentathlon. Eight members voted against wrestling and three each against the other two sports. Taekwondo and canoe kayaking survived the previous rounds.
The final result surprised even some of 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.
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.
The international wrestling federation, known by the French acronym FILA, said it was "greatly astonished" by the decision.
"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," the statement said.
FILA said it has always complied with IOC regulations and is represented in 180 countries, with wrestling the national sport in some of them.
The federation, which is headed by Raphael Martinetti and based in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, said it would hold a meeting next week in Thailand to discuss the matter.
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 session, or general assembly, in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
It is extremely unlikely that wrestling would be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board.
"Today's decision is not final," Adams said. "The session is sovereign and the session will make the final decision."
Wrestling's long history in the Olympics has featured some legendary names and moments:
Karelin won the super-heavyweight gold in Greco-Roman over three straight Olympics (1988, 1992 and 1996). It was Gardner who ended Karelin's run, beating him for the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Baumgartner won four Olympic medals, including golds in 1984 and 1992.
Blatnick overcame cancer to win gold in Greco-Roman at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, bursting into tears after the match. Blatnick died last year at the age of 55.
Burroughs emerged as the star of the sport in London, where he won the 74-kilogram gold.
The IOC board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission report that analyzed 39 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.
"It was an extremely difficult decision to take," IOC Vice President Thomas Bach of Germany said. "The motivation of every member is never based on a single reason. There are always several reasons. It was a secret vote. There will always be criticism, but I think the great majority will understand that we took a decision based on facts and for the modernization of the Olympic Games."
The decision hit hard in Russia, which has long been a power in the sport.
Mikhail Mamiashvili, president of the Russian Wrestling Federation, suggested FILA had not done enough to keep the sport in the games.
"We want to hear what was done to prevent this issue from even being discussed at the board," he said on the Rossiya TV channel.
In comments carried by the Itar-TASS news agency Mamiashvili added: "I can say for sure that the roots of this problem is at the FILA. I believe that Martinetti's task was to work hard, socialize and defend wrestling's place before the IOC."
Alexander Leipold, a 2000 Olympic champion from Germany and former freestyle German team coach, said he was shocked.
"I can't believe it," he said. "We are a technical, tactical martial sport where the aim is not to harm the opponent. Competing at the Olympics is the greatest for an athlete."
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.
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.
Klaus Schormann, president of governing body UIPM, lobbied hard to protect his sport's Olympic status and it paid off in the end.
"We have promised things and we have delivered," he said after Tuesday's decision. "That gives me a great feeling. It also gives me new energy to develop our sport further and never give up."
Modern pentathlon also benefited from the work of Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president who is a UIPM vice president and member of the IOC board.
"We were considered weak in some of the scores in the program commission report but strong in others," Samaranch told the AP. "We played our cards to the best of our ability and stressed the positives."