Wrestling

Wrestling remains in Olympics, beats baseball-softball, squash in IOC vote

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Olympic wrestling is saved.

The sport was voted for inclusion in the 2020 and 2024 Olympics by the International Olympic Committee on Sunday, seven months after it was recommended to be dropped from the Games.

Wrestling, part of the ancient Olympics and every modern Games save 1900, was heavily favored to beat out a joint baseball-softball bid and squash.

Wrestling won with a first-round total of 49 votes to baseball-softball’s 24 and squash’s 22. A majority of 48 votes were needed to win, or else it would have gone to a second round. The voting was done by secret ballot, just as Saturday’s 2020 host city election won by Tokyo.

“Thank you for this opportunity to save our sport of wrestling,” FILA president Nenad Lalovic said in wrestling’s presentation to the IOC at the Buenos Aires Hilton. “Today is the most important day in the 3,000-year history of our sport. And believe me, we feel the weight of that history. Remaining in the Olympic program is crucial to our survival.”

Wrestling’s inclusion means the Olympic sports program remains unchanged from 2016 to 2020. Rugby and golf were previously added for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.

“The program must remain dynamic,” outgoing IOC president Jacques Rogge said Sunday morning. “That is essential for the success of the Olympic Games.”

Wrestling’s fight is not over. It is not an Olympic “core sport” yet and only safe through 2024, for now.

“With this vote, you have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference,” Lalovic said in a FILA statement seconds after the vote. “I assure each of you that our modernization will not stop now.”

Lalovic said wrestling will try to become a core sport again in four years.

Wrestling was recommended to be dropped from the Olympics on Feb. 12. Why? Rogge noted its shortcomings Sunday, saying it lacked athlete administrative representation, gender equality, had hard-to-understand rules and part of it was not as popular anymore. He didn’t mention it specifically, but Rogge is believed to have been referring to Greco-Roman wrestling’s decline.

“I cannot read in the minds of my 14 IOC executive board colleagues, however from discussions I noted that the executive board felt that the governance of the wrestling federation at that time, I insist at the time, was not optimum,” Rogge said Sunday.

It made major changes the last seven months amid the backdrop of widely publicized “Save Olympic Wrestling” and “Keep Olympic Wrestling” campaigns. Swiss Raphael Martinetti resigned as FILA president in February, replaced by the burly, bespectacled, chain-smoking Lalovic.

“We have made mistakes,” Lalovic said. “We admitted it, but we decided to listen and learn. We are aware of our mistakes, and they will not happen again.”

It replaced two men’s weight classes (one each in freestyle and Greco-Roman) with two women’s weight classes (freestyle, as there are no Greco-Roman women’s Olympic classes). It also simplified its rules and scoring, making it easier to understand and awarding more aggressive strategy.

“Wrestling is new, in virtually every way,” former U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Jim Scherr said as part of wrestling’s presentation. “EB’s (the IOC executive board) decision was a wake-up call for FILA.”

American wrestlers past and present reacted to the news with joy. Burroughs, the only 2012 U.S. Olympic wrestling champion, watched the stream of the announcement on his phone, according to The Associated Press.

1972 Olympic champion Dan Gable saw it at a watch party at the University of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“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 told the AP. “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.”

Tuesday’s vote: new IOC president

There have been reported scenarios that baseball-softball or squash could still get into the 2020 Olympics, by changing the Olympic Charter, the maximum number of sports (28) and cutting events within current Olympic sports to get under the maximum number of athletes (10,500).

Baseball-softball was the first of the three sports to present Sunday. The two sports were dropped from the Olympics in a 2005 vote, with it taking effect starting with the 2012 Olympic Games. Baseball had been an Olympic sport since 1992; softball since 1996. They came together for a joint bid, hoping it would better their chances.

Baseball-softball’s highlight included a video that softball leader Don Porter pledged included full support of all professional leagues around the world. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig appeared in the video but made no mention of MLB players committing to playing in the Olympics. That has been an issue the last few months.

“Major League Baseball fully supports the (World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC)) bid to return to the Games,” Selig said in the video. “Baseball and softball belong together. … We want to return to the Olympic Games.”

Baseball-softball played four videos in all, accompanied by music from the likes of Nicki Minaj and Christina Aguilera. WBSC co-president Porter welled up talking about the oft-reported story of the hundreds of letters on his desk, 511 he said, from girls who are aspiring softball players.

“(The girls) were heartbroken by the news that softball would no longer be in the Olympics,” Porter said. “I keep those letters there because they touch my heart and constantly remind me of our mission and vision.”

Minutes after losing, baseball-softball canceled a press conference it had scheduled for after the vote.

“Hopefully, baseball’s successful in the future,” Rogge said at the end of the vote announcement, singling out baseball after thanking all of the sports.

Squash was the second sport to make its presentation.

“Squash is a sport that represents the future, not the past,” World Squash Federation president N. Ramachandran of India said in his opening remarks, noting its third straight bid to get into the Olympics for the first time. “Today is the culmination of a 10-year campaign.”

Ramachandran’s comments showed how squash was different from baseball-softball and wrestling, which have already been in the Olympics.

The presentation included a conversation between two young squash players, a 16-year-old boy from Peru and a 17-year-old girl from the Bronx. In its videos, squash included a logo that read, “sport at its best.”

Squash boasted its ability for a court to be constructed anywhere — it showcased the sport played near the Egyptian pyramids in a video — and its low number of total athletes, 64, also a plus for the Olympics. But how much it improved upon its previous failed attempts to get into the Olympics was questionable, and it was not considered to have much of a chance of winning Sunday.

Earlier in the program Sunday, Canada’s Dick Pound, an IOC member since 1978, suggested the sport vote be pushed back five months.

“My sense is there’s a very strong feeling wrestling” will remain in the Games, Pound said.

He wanted a revised list of core sports and new sports to be voted on next year. His suggestion brought to mind the fact that by keeping wrestling, the Olympic program is back where it was before the February recommendation to drop wrestling.

Rogge shot down Pound.

“We should act now,” he said.

Video: Tokyo named host of 2020 Olympics

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena meet Olympic qualification

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena
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Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, who weren’t partners this time last year, mathematically qualified for the Rio Olympics this week.

Dalhausser, a 2008 Olympic champion with Todd Rogers, and Lucena, who has never competed in an Olympics, played their 12th international tournament together, meeting the FIVB minimum to be eligible for the Games.

Dalhausser and Lucena, both 36, and the pair of two-time Olympian Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson are assured of being the top two U.S. men’s teams in Olympic qualifying standings come the June 13 qualifying deadline.

Dalhausser and Lucena and Gibb and Patterson are expected to be officially named to the U.S. Olympic team shortly after that deadline. A nation can qualify no more than two pairs per gender to the Olympics.

This time last year, Dalhausser was playing with fellow two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal. They paired up after neither earned medals with different partners at the London Olympics.

Dalhausser and Rosenthal were the world’s most successful pair in 2013 and 2014, winning six FIVB World Tour events. But their partnership changed after Dalhausser suffered an oblique injury last May 28.

They played one more tournament together, losing in the round of 16, and announced their breakup on July 27.

“I think if he doesn’t have that oblique injury, we’re out playing, and we’re back to where we’ve been the last two years, as the No. 1 team in the world,” Rosenthal said in July, according to Redbull.com. “When we weren’t injured, we were the best team in the world. We’ve had to deal with some injuries, and I don’t think either of us have had to do that our whole career, so that put a little more pressure on us: ‘Why aren’t they winning all the time? Why aren’t they the best team in the world?’ When we’re healthy, we were.”

Dalhausser turned to Lucena, with whom he began his career in 2003 before joining Rogers full-time in 2006.

Dalhausser and Lucena finished first or second in eight of their first nine FIVB tournaments since reuniting.

They were eliminated from this week’s event in Moscow by Italians Daniele Lupo and Paolo Nicolai, the same pair that upset Dalhausser and Rogers in the London Olympic round of 16.

Dalhausser and Lucena and Gibb and Patterson are Olympic medal contenders, along with Brazilian World champions Alison and Bruno and other pairs from Brazil, Latvia and the Netherlands.

On the women’s side, three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and 2012 silver medalist April Ross are assured of finishing as the top American pair in Olympic qualifying. Lauren Fendrick and Brooke Sweat will likely clinch the second spot in two weeks.

MORE: Walsh Jennings, Ross win Cincinnati Open

Nearly 150 health experts ask WHO to consider moving, delaying Olympics

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LONDON (AP) — Health experts on Friday urged the World Health Organization to consider whether the Rio de Janeiro Olympics should be postponed or moved because of the Zika outbreak.

The 150 experts — including a former White House science adviser — issued an open letter to the U.N. health agency, calling for the Games to be delayed or relocated “in the name of public health.”

The letter cited recent scientific evidence that the Zika virus causes severe birth defects, most notably babies born with abnormally small heads. In adults, it can cause neurological problems, including a rare syndrome that can be fatal or result in temporary paralysis. The authors also noted that despite increased efforts to wipe out the mosquitoes that spread Zika, cases in Rio have gone up rather than down.

Several public health academics have previously warned that having hundreds of thousands of people head to the Aug. 5-21 Games in Brazil will inevitably lead to the births of more brain-damaged babies and speed up the virus’ global spread.

WHO declared the Zika epidemic to be a global emergency in February and in its latest assessment this week, said it “does not see an overall decline in the outbreak.”

“The fire is already burning, but that is not a rationale not to do anything about the Olympics,” said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the letter’s authors. “It is not the time now to throw more gasoline onto the fire.”

WHO has already advised pregnant women not to travel to Rio and says other travelers should avoid poor and overcrowded parts of the city. WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said earlier this month that the U.N. health agency is increasingly worried about Zika but stopped short of recommending the Rio Olympics be moved or postponed. Chan, who is not of child-bearing age, noted that she herself would be going to the Games.

Among the letter’s signatories are experts from more than two dozen countries in fields including public health, bioethics and pediatrics. The letter also noted a potential conflict of interest, highlighting the decades-long collaboration between WHO and the International Olympic Committee.

The authors said that partnership “was last affirmed in 2010 at an event where the Director-General of WHO and president of the IOC signed a memorandum of understanding, which is secret because neither has disclosed it.”

They also pointed to a group that WHO established to help cities not only with health advice, but to potentially help them bid for major events including the Olympics.

“WHO cannot credibly assess the public health risks of Zika and the Olympics when it sets neutrality aside,” the letter stated.

WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

In an email to the AP, the IOC said it would “always consult the WHO for guidance and advice on health matters.”

Concerns over Zika have prompted USA Swimming to move its pre-Olympic training camp from Puerto Rico to Atlanta and Major League Baseball also scrapped a series of games that were going to be held in San Juan.

No Olympic Games have ever been moved from their host city due to medical concerns, but in 2003, FIFA decided to switch the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament from China to the United States on short notice due to the threat posed by the respiratory virus SARS.

MORE: WHO increasingly worried about Rio, but Olympics OK to go on