Rumble on the Rails

Wrestling’s chances of 2020, 2024 Olympic inclusion

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The International Olympic Committee will make the second of three major votes at its session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sunday.

Nearly 100 IOC members will choose one of three sports — baseball/softball, squash and wrestling — for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics from 11-11:45 a.m. Eastern time. For more on what happens Sunday, click here.

OlympicTalk will look at each sport’s pitch. Here is a rundown of wrestling:

Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs gets one question more than any other from young, impressionable wrestlers.

Will wrestling be back in the Olympics?

The definitive answer is about to come down, seven months after wrestling was recommended to be dropped from the Games. Burroughs, 25, fought hard to capture gold in London, winning four matches in one day. He joined a different fight on Feb. 12, when he saw a BBC World News report of wrestling’s axing in a hotel near a German airport where he had a layover en route to Iran for a competition.

“I spent a bunch of time after the Olympic Games telling kids around the nation that if they dream, if they work hard and sacrifice, they can be an Olympic champion as well,” he said in a phone interview. “(After Feb. 12), I told everyone to stay optimistic, continue to work hard. The big picture is, regardless of whether the Olympics continue to keep wrestling or not, it’s still a really great sport.”

Wrestling has long been at the heart at the Olympic movement, which is what made February’s news so shocking. Some thought modern pentathlon would have been dropped. Instead, the IOC executive board tapped a sport that dates to the ancient Olympics and has been part of the Olympic program at every modern Games except 1900.

Squash’s chances at Olympic inclusion

Wrestling’s leaders knew all hope was not lost. In May, the IOC would pick three sports as finalists to fill the opening. In September, it would choose the replacement. Wrestling was eligible to try to get its spot back without missing any Games.

Since February, its international federation (FILA) made sweeping changes and campaigned vigorously. “Keep Olympic Wrestling” and “Save Olympic Wrestling” became mottos at special events where the U.S. and wrestling powers Iran and Russia united.

Swiss Raphael Martinetti resigned as FILA president in February. Nenad Lalovic of Serbia came in and brought the sport to where it is today, a favorite to stay in the Games. The Associated Press dubbed its chances “a virtual lock” to beat baseball-softball and squash.

What could hold wrestling back? Voters may want fresh blood in the Games, or they may not want to reverse February’s decision.

Lalovic, described as a chain smoker, burly and charismatic by media, was asked to rate his confidence level this week.

“Confidence, that’s a hard word,” he said in a phone interview. “Anyway, I’m optimistic, keeping in mind we’ve done everything possible for our sport, for this sport, in six months.”

Madrid’s chances of hosting 2020 Olympics

The changes included a move toward gender equality, recommended by the IOC. It added two weight classes to women’s freestyle, cutting one men’s freestyle and one men’s Greco-Roman class. That makes six classes each for the three disciplines. The scoring system and rules were also simplified.

Retired Olympic wrestlers joined Hollywood celebrities and stars from other spots in supporting the cause. Like 2000 Olympic champion Rulon Gardner, whose work included an appearance with 2008 Olympic champion Henry Cejudo on “The Tonight Show” with wrestling supporter Jay Leno in March.

Istanbul’s chances of hosting 2020 Olympics

Gardner said this week he had zero confidence going into the vote, not that he thinks wrestling will lose but because he’s staying cautious.

“I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I know some people are like, ‘Oh yeah, no problem, we’re in.’ Uh-uh.”

Burroughs’ immediate plans won’t change after he sees the IOC decision Sunday. He’ll return to the mat in preparation for another transatlantic flight next week. Destination Budapest, Hungary, for the World Championships.

“I’ll be watching very closely,” Burroughs said. “I know all the wrestling fans will be posted by their computers, by their laptops, waiting for the decision to be made.”

Key information for IOC session in Buenos Aires

Ashley Wagner ends ‘turbulent season’ as Yevgenia Medvedeva breaks record

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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva beat her world-record free skate score by six points, while Japan won World Team Trophy to close the figure skating season in Tokyo on Saturday.

Americans Ashley Wagner and Karen Chen were sixth and ninth, respectively, in the free skate. The U.S., which had won the last two World Team Trophy titles, finished third in the this year’s standings behind Japan and Russia.

“This has been a turbulent season for me, so to finish with such a strong performance was really nice,” Wagner said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “That wasn’t perfect, but I fought for every single thing. I’m very happy.”

The 17-year-old Medvedeva hasn’t lost an individual competition since November 2015, a run that includes the last two world titles.

She came into World Team Trophy having broken the women’s scoring record at her last two competitions (European and world championships). The mark was formerly held by Yuna Kim, set at the 2010 Olympics.

At World Team Trophy, Medvedeva became the first female skater to break 80 points in a short program and 160 points in a free skate. She won the free skate by a whopping 14 points over Japan’s Mai Mihara.

Wagner, 25, ended her least successful season since 2010-11 with her highest score of the campaign.

She followed up a breakout 2016 World Championships, where she won silver, by finishing seventh at worlds last month. She also was beaten by Chen at the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final for the first time in five seasons.

Chen, the surprise U.S. champion and fourth-place finisher at worlds, struggled at World Team Trophy. The 17-year-old totaled 168.95 points, 30 points fewer than her personal best at worlds. She fell twice in her free skate.

In eight competitions this season, Chen had poor results in six of them.

But she peaked for the two biggest events — nationals and worlds.

“It was a tough season for me, but I feel like I learned a lot,” Chen said Saturday, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I’m going to use all of this experience to help me be more consistent next season.”

Chen remains a strong contender for the three-woman Olympic team, which will be named after the U.S. Championships in January.

As does Wagner.

Others in the running include U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell (12th at worlds) and Mirai Nagasu (fourth at the last two nationals). Plus, two-time U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who changed coaches after a dreadful season.

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Ashton Eaton competes on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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Items on the to-do list for two-time Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton now that he’s retired: Play with the puppy. Sharpen his snowboarding skills. Take a space shuttle to Mars.

That’s right, warp speed to the Red Planet.

Not tomorrow or anything, but it remains on the agenda. He’s also trying to get his wife, Canadian heptathlon bronze medalist Brianne Theisen-Eaton, on board with the futuristic excursion.

“Not as interested,” she laughed. “Too big of a lifestyle change.”

The first couple of multi-events have down-to-earth retirement plans as well. Here’s a sampling: Appearing on American Ninja Warrior (Ashton), starting a food-education website (Brianne), supporting a worldwide 6-kilometer walk for clean water and preparing for a move to San Francisco after spending a decade in Eugene, Oregon.

An urge to compete? No longer present, they insisted.

“I will always have a love for it. But missing it? That means I want to do [the decathlon],” said the 29-year-old Ashton, who won’t be going for his third straight world title crown in August. “I’m just fond of it.”

They’re still figuring this retirement thing out after announcing the surprising news in side-by-side essays in January. Ashton walked away after accomplishing all he wanted to accomplish — winning gold at the 2012 London Games and defending his title at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He also exited with his world record standing at 9,045 points, which he amassed at the 2015 World Championships.

Brianne was ready to move on to Act II of their lives following a hard-earned bronze in Rio. She was emotionally and physically worn out.

“My parents were asking us, ‘Do you miss anything?'” the 28-year-old Brianne said. “I think the answer is no. It was a perfect time to retire. When we watch competitions, it’s relaxing and fun. There’s not a little bit that’s like, ‘We wish we were there competing.”‘

The Eatons recently expanded their family when they brought home Zora, who’s a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle. Now, there are puppy classes and walks on their plate.

“A change in lifestyle, for sure,” Brianne said.

On the horizon, an even bigger lifestyle transformation: Their move to the Bay Area this fall for more entrepreneurial opportunities. It’s bittersweet, because the couple met while competing at the University of Oregon as teenagers and married in July 2013. It’s home.

“We just need a change of environment,” Ashton said, “and this checks a lot of boxes.”

Memo to NASA: Ashton has space on his mind. The moon would be nice. So would a trip to the International Space Station. And that pledge to someday make it to Mars? It’s genuine.

“I like things that are really ambitious goals and being first person on Mars would be a good one,” Ashton said. “If in the future, things kind of come around and there’s an opportunity, I’ll take it.”

Recently, Ashton and Brianne were in Peru and staying at a hotel on the side of the cliff with a glass roof. Using a phone “app,” they located the stars and planets in the night’s sky.

“We saw Mars, clear as day,” Ashton said. “It was funny to imagine being there. Brianne was like, ‘Why go there? The earth would be a little green star in the sky.’ I was like, `Yeah, wouldn’t that be incredible? We could say that’s where we’re from, but we are way over here now.”‘

Earlier this month, Ashton helped stage a video-game and technology expo in Portland. He was nervous because, “it’s the first thing nonathletic thing I’ve done in my entire life. But it ended up really well.”

This was definitely more in his comfort zone: Competing in a celebrity edition of “American Ninja Warrior,” a contest that features athletes tackling a series of demanding obstacle courses. The episode is set to air next month.

“I was just as sore after that as after a decathlon,” Ashton said.

One of Brianne’s passions is cooking, leading her to launch a site that features healthy recipes and nutritional tips. It’s expected to go live in June.

They also took up snowboarding. Ashton fell hard for the sport — even after a few run-ins with trees.

“After every day of snowboarding, he’d be like, ‘Let’s go again this week!”‘ Brianne said. “I’d be like, ‘Ash, I need a couple of weeks to heal my tailbone.’ I would be so bruised.”

Of course, they’re still running, too, especially for a good cause. On May 6, the Eatons will participate in World Vision’s global 6-kilometer race, which is the average distance that people in the developing countries walk for water.

See, they’re quite busy.

“Retirement is good,” Brianne said. “We are enjoying our time, and just figuring out what we want to do with ourselves.

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