ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Finally this hour, an unexpected announcement from the world of Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee Executive Board has decided to drop wrestling from the games beginning in 2020. It is a major blow to the sport, which is among the world's oldest. Today, wrestling is represented on every continent. NPR's Mike Pesca reports on fallout from the decision.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: The slogan of USA Wrestling is where the Olympic journey begins. The mission statement starts: USA Wrestling, guided by the Olympic spirit, well, neither the spirit nor the dream seem to be reciprocated by the Olympics themselves. Today's announcement spelled match over not just for hopeful American Olympians but for every athlete affiliated with the 180 wrestling federations throughout the world. Mike Moyer, the executive director of National Wrestling Coaches Association, says no one in the sport saw this coming.
MIKE MOYER: Never was there any discussion that free style could be on the chopping block.
PESCA: Moyer explains that within the wrestling community, there was some but not much speculation that Greco-Roman wrestling, which only allows holds above the waist, might be dropped from the Olympics. There was never an inkling that all styles of men's and women's wrestling could be dropped too. But at a closed-door meeting in Switzerland, the members of the IOC's executive board decided to eliminate the sport, which has been held at every summer games except Paris in 1900.
The 15 members of that board, none of whom are Americans, represent countries that won three bronze and one silver medals among the 72 awarded at the London Olympics. Wrestling will now be considered along with seven other sports for inclusion in the 2020 games, but that possibility is seen as remote. Robert Koll is the coach of the Cornell wrestling team. He's a former member of U.S. national teams and is the son of a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic wrestling team.
ROBERT KOLL: It's just a crime. It's a sin that happened, and it's a sin how it happened.
PESCA: The IOC cites 39 criteria for a sport to be included in the games. It did not specify how wrestling ranked by those criteria. An IOC spokesperson explained that as compared to the other sports in the Olympics, wrestling does not sufficiently, quote, "appeal" to the interests of people of all ages around the world. It has to cater for all tastes. Koll disagrees.
KOLL: You don't walk around down the street and meet fencers or rhythmic dancers, rhythmic gymnasts or people who are on the trampoline. I mean, my God, the modern-day pentathlon, I've never met a pentathlete. Have you?
PESCA: But the modern pentathlon, thought to be the sport most likely to be cut in order to make way for new competition, has a powerful ally in Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. Samaranch, in addition to being the son of the former IOC president, is a vice president of the modern pentathlon's federation and a member of the Olympic board that voted to ax wrestling. For wrestlers like Kyle Dake, the decision is crushing. Dake, a senior at Cornell, has a chance to become only the third wrestler to win four NCAA titles. He had planned to wrestle in Rio, which can still happen, and after that in 2020 when he'll be at the peak age for a wrestler.
KYLE DAKE: To let it go would just be an abomination, really, and terrible for all the future athletes who want to become Olympic champions. It would just be terrible to lose that type of history.
PESCA: The history that Dake refers to goes as far back as Greek myth, when Palestra, daughter of Hermes and goddess of wrestling, was said to have invented the sport. The sports that could replace wrestling at the modern Olympics, include karate, sport climbing, inline roller skating, squash, wakeboard and the combat sport of wushu. Mike Pesca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.