Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013, 10:38 pm

IOC's decision to eliminate wrestling 'a total shock'

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By Daniel Makarewicz,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert / staff
Former University of Illinois wrestling coach and 1973 Alleman graduate Mark Johnson helped coach some young wrestlers at the Alleman wrestling camp, Monday, June 4, 2012, at Alleman High School. Johnson, a former Olympic wrestler and NCAA All-American, coached the University of Illinois for 17 seasons, finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA championships on 10 occasions and in the top 15 in 13 of his last 15 seasons.
While training as a wrestler for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Rock Island native and 1973 Alleman grad Mark Johnson recalls the moment he learned the United States would boycott the games.

"A sick feeling," Johnson said.

Tuesday brought back some memories for all the wrong reasons.

The International Olympic Committee announced on Tuesday that wrestling no longer would be a sponsored sport starting in 2020. The decision left those in the tight-knit wrestling community angered, shocked and disappointed.

"It's one of those core Olympic sports," said Johnson, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic wrestling team. "It's always kind of been the ultimate goal for those in wrestling. It's kind of surreal that it may not happen for anybody anymore."

Wrestling is long considered one of the world's oldest sports. It was contested during the first Olympics in Athens in 1896.After the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, wrestling no longer will be part of the games.

"I'm just loaded up with questions to why and how this decision came about," said Moline athletic director Todd Rosenthal, a 1980 and 1984 U.S. Olympic wrestling alternate. "Why was wrestling on the chopping block? This came out of left field. I don't know the thought process behind it. I'll be anxious to know. To me, it's a total shock."

The IOC executive board decided to remove wrestling from its list of 25 "core sports" and retain the modern pentathlon, an event most believed would be eliminated.

The board reviewed the 26 sports offered in the Olympics and decided to eliminate one so the IOC can add another one later this year.

"This is a process of renewing and renovating the program for the Olympics," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press. "In the view of the executive board, this was the best program for the Olympic Games in 2020. It's not a case of what's wrong with wrestling, it is what's right with the 25 core sports."

The Associated Press reports the decision was made by a secret ballot over several rounds. IOC board members voted each time on which sport should be eliminated from the core group.

When the voting was over, wrestling was eliminated.

"It's just another disappointment that comes along every once in a while," Johnson said. "This is a big decision."

Rosenthal said the decision to cut wrestling from the Olympics "will not hurt the sport," but it certainly does not help it.

"I can't understand why the sport was considered," Rosenthal said. "I understand the financial consideration, but why was wrestling considered when it's been in the Olympics for so long?"

An Associated Press report stated the IOC board reviewed 39 criteria it commissioned, examining television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global participation and popularity. The story said no rankings and recommendations were included in the report, so the final decision was rather subjective.

At least locally, wrestling still remains popular.

"One thing you know about the wrestling community is they don't go down easy," Rosenthal said. "I don't think it's over."

With hours of the announcement, a domestic petition started with the hopes of it reaching the White House for review.Despite the news, wrestling could be retained. There are seven sports -- baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu -- already on the list for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. Only one will be admitted.

An IOC executive board meeting scheduled in May will decide which sports should be proposed for inclusion. The final vote will be made in September.

Published reports say it is unlikely wrestling would be retained so soon after being removed.

"I'm angry," Rosenthal said. "There's a lot of people upset about this."
The Associated Press contributed to this report