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

Abby Wambach to cover Olympics for ESPN

Abby Wambach
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Retired U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach is joining ESPN as an analyst and a contributor.

Wambach, the leading goal scorer of all time, will cover the European Championships in France and the Rio Olympics in August.

But her role won’t be limited to soccer: She will work across multiple platforms including ESPN Films and shows including “Outside the Lines,” according to the network.

“Talking and reporting on thing that I’m passionate about really, really was the selling point to me,” Wambach told The Associated Press. “Because I don’t want the rest of my life to be based on the fact that I played soccer. I want to be able to venture and learn about different things.”

Wambach also will produce a podcast, “Fearless Conversation with Abby Wambach,” which she promises won’t shy away from controversy. Among her first topics will be foreign players on the U.S. national team. Wambach drew criticism when she blasted U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for bringing in “a bunch of these foreign guys” in December.

Oslo-born midfielder Mix Diskerud subsequently posted a message to Wambach on Instagram.

“I know we’re not quite equal. From ‘your group of people’ the country’s Commander in Chief need to be selected. However, other than that — you and I share something not unique, but constitutionally earned, a birthright to defend this nation as an American. Wherever we go. Led by whoever has earned, by democratic process, his/her right to lead, on or off the field, in peace, in war, in practice, or in any other kind of pursuit of your happiness,” he wrote.

Wambach said she’s willing to re-examine those comments.

“Why not? I think people tend to steer away from stuff that has caused controversy in their lives. For me, what better place to start? To be quite honest, it’s been few and far between in my career, the reason being that I’ve been speaking for 23 other women, so I kind of towed the party line during that time.”

Wambach, the FIFA Player of the Year in 2012, scored 184 career goals, more than any other player, male or female. She played 15 years with the U.S. women’s national team.

She capped her career last summer with the sport’s most prestigious championship when the United States defeated Japan 5-2 in Canada at the World Cup. It was the third World Cup title for the U.S. women and first since 1999.

Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has a pair of Olympic gold medals, from the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2012 Games in London. She did not compete in the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.

Wambach announced her retirement in October and played her final match in December.

Since she stepped away from the team, she has made several appearances at charity events and campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

During the course of her career, Wambach has been active in fighting for equal rights for female athletes. She led a group of players in protest of FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many to be inferior to grass.

She made headlines last month when she was pulled over for driving under the influence in Portland, Ore., where she lives. After posting a public apology on her Facebook page, she pleaded guilty and entered a diversion program for first-time offenders.

MORE: Five Olympic questions with Abby Wambach

Five events to watch at Doha Diamond League season opener

Caster Semenya
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Comebacks are on tap in the first Diamond League meet of the Olympic season in Doha on Friday.

South African Caster Semenya, the 2012 Olympic 800m silver medalist, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014.

American Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist, has been absent from the Diamond League since 2013.

And France’s Teddy Tamgho, the 2013 World triple jump champion, is slated to return to Doha after rupturing an Achilles tendon at the Qatar capital last year.

Those are some of the bigger storylines in a meet that lacks Usain BoltJustin GatlinAllyson Felix and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

10:45 a.m. — Women’s pole vault
10:45 — Women’s shot put
11:10 — Women’s triple jump
11:30 — Men’s discus
12 p.m. — Men’s high jump
12:04 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:15 — Women’s 100m
12:25 — Men’s 1500m
12:39 — Women’s 400m hurdles
12:50 — Men’s 3000m steeplechase
12:50 — Men’s triple jump
12:55 — Women’s javelin
1:09 — Men’s 200m
1:21 — Women’s 800m
1:34 — Men’s 110m hurdles
1:45 — Women’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 100m — 12:15 p.m. ET

The field is without the Olympic and World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica but does include the second-through-fourth-place finishers from Worlds.

That’s, in order, the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers, American Tori Bowie and Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown.

Schippers and Bowie earned their first World sprint medals last year, while Campbell-Brown is a seven-time Olympic medalist.

Men’s Triple Jump — 12:50 p.m. ET

The last two World champions face off.

American Christian Taylor won the 2015 World crown with the second-best triple jump in history.

Teddy Tamgho of France, the 2013 World champ, was unable to challenge Taylor at Worlds in Beijing after rupturing an Achilles tendon in Doha last year.

Men’s 200m — 1:09 p.m. ET

A men’s sprint including neither Usain Bolt nor Justin Gatlin is usually not noteworthy. This race is intriguing if only for the presence of Walter Dix, the 2008 Olympic 100m and 200m bronze medalist set for his first Diamond League race since 2013.

Dix, also the 2011 World 100m and 200m silver medalist, has barely been heard from since failing to make the 2012 Olympic team. He was slowed by a left hamstring injury in 2012 and 2013.

In the 100m, he has broken 10 seconds once in 32 tries since April 21, 2012, according to Tilastopaja.org. But last month he clocked his fastest 100m and 200m times since 2013.

In Doha, he will face a field that includes Isiah Young and Ameer Webb, two of the four fastest U.S. men in the 200m since the London Olympics.

Women’s 800m — 1:21 p.m. ET

South African Caster Semenya is back in the spotlight after clocking the then-fastest 400m and 800m times this year within an hour of each other on April 16.

The 400m time was surpassed later that day, but it was still a personal best for Semenya, best known for a gender-testing controversy in 2009 and 2010.

Semenya, who failed to qualify for the 2013 Worlds and failed to make the 2015 World 800m final, is set for her first Diamond League race since 2014. She’ll notch her first Diamond League win since 2011 if she can beat a field that includes Kenyan Eunice Sum, the fastest in the world in 2015.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 1:34 p.m. ET

Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt continues his comeback from a Sept. 1 kidney transplant (and a reported second emergency surgery in late October).

Merritt, who earned 2015 World bronze with kidney function at less than 20 percent, is slated to face a Doha field that includes 2013 World champion David Oliver and Jamaican Omar McLeod, who ran the world’s second-fastest time in 2015.

McLeod beat Oliver and Merritt at the Drake Relays on Saturday.

MORE: U.S. sprinters past, present trade relay barbs