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

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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