Wrestling cut from Olympics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland - For wrestling, this might have been the ultimate body slam: getting tossed out of the Olympic rings.

The vote Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee's executive board stunned the world's wrestlers, who see their sport as popular in many countries and steeped in history as old as the Olympics themselves.

While wrestling will be included at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, it was cut from the games in 2020, which have yet to be awarded to a host city.

Khasan Baroev of Russia, a 2004 Olympic Greco-Roman champion, called the decision "mind-boggling."

"I just can't believe it. And what sport will then be added to the Olympic program? What sport is worthy of replacing ours?" Baroev told the ITAR-Tass news agency. "Wrestling is popular in many countries - just see how the medals were distributed at the last Olympics."

American Rulon Gardner, who upset three-time Russian Olympic champion Alexander Karelin at the Sydney Games in a gold-medal bout known as the "Miracle on the Mat," was saddened by the decision to drop what he called "a beloved sport."

"It's the IOC trying to change the Olympics to make it more mainstream and more viewer-friendly instead of sticking to what they founded the Olympics on," Gardner said in a telephone interview.

Perhaps Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight Mike Swick put it best, in a post on Twitter:

"Wrestling has been taken out of Olympics but trampoline is still in!?! Cant imagine Ancient Greek athletes perfecting the double back flip."

Many UFC competitors started their careers in wrestling, and some made Olympic teams. One of them, UFC light heavyweight contender Dan Henderson, who wrestled in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, couldn't understand the decision, either.

"I guess it's not as exciting as other sports and doesn't get TV coverage," he said. "It's definitely not as exciting as MMA, but I enjoy it and think it's a great sport. It's really sad to see it going."

When UFC heavyweight Daniel Cormier heard the decision, he thought about today's youth. Cormier, who placed fourth in the 2004 Olympics and was the U.S. team's captain in the 2008 games, even though he didn't wrestle because of a kidney injury, posted on Twitter:

"Unbelievable! What do u tell the kids on my youth team who want nothing more than to be like Jordan Burroughs!#saveolympicwrestling."

The executive board of the IOC reviewed the 26 sports on its summer program in order to remove one of them so it could add one later this year. It decided to cut wrestling and keep modern pentathlon - a sport that combines fencing, horse riding, swimming, running and shooting, and was considered to be the most likely to be dropped.

The board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission report that analyzed 39 criteria, including TV ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity.

According to IOC documents obtained by the AP, wrestling ranked "low" in several of the technical criteria, including popularity with the public at the London Games - just below five on a scale of 10. Wrestling sold 113,851 tickets in London out of 116,854 available.

Wrestling also ranked "low" in global TV audience with a maximum of 58.5 million viewers and an average of 23 million, the documents show. Internet hits and press coverage also were ranked as low.

NBC, which televises the Olympics in the U.S., declined comment.

Modern pentathlon, which has been on the Olympic program since the 1912 Stockholm Games, also ranked low in general popularity in London, with 5.2 out of 10. The sport also ranked low in all TV categories, with maximum viewership of 33.5 million and an average of 12.5 million.

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.

Wrestling was featured in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. At last year's Olympics, the sport featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman.

Women's wrestling was added to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games.

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Adam Hill contributed to this report.