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September 8, 2013

Stillwater fans celebrate wrestling's return to the Olympic Games

STILLWATER, Okla. — A fresh look for an old sport kept wrestling in the Olympic Games, National Wrestling Hall of Fame Executive Director Lee Roy Smith said.

Sunday, the International Olympic Committee reinstated the sport for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The IOC's executive board surprisingly dropped wrestling from the list of core sports in February. Sunday, wrestling received 49 votes to win in the first round of the IOC's secret balloting at its meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Baseball-softball received 24 votes and squash 22. The vote followed final, 20-minute presentations by representatives of the three sports. 

Approximately 50 wrestling fans attended a watch event Sunday at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater.

Oklahoma State University's Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott, two-time Olympic gold medalist and OSU wrestling coach John Smith and Olympic wrestler and OSU assistant coach Eric Guerrero attended the watch event.

"We are in for 2020 and 2024 on a provisional basis," the Hall of Fame's executive director said. "It gives us time to get in as a core sport. That is our goal."

Since February, international wrestling organization, FILA, revamped its organization and reshaped the sport.

FILA President Raphael Martinetti resigned in February. Nenad Lalovic took the reins. FILA gave female and athletes a larger role in decision making. It revamped the sport, adding two weight classes for women in freestyle and adopting rule changes that make wrestling easier to understand and more fun to watch. The changes also reward an offensive style of wrestling.

"Wrestling is new in virtually every way, FILA official Jim Scherr told IOC delegates during the sport's presentation.

Wrestling goes back to the ancient Olympics in Greece and has been on the program of every modern games except 1900.

In Stillwater, Smith, the Hall of Fame executive director, said wrestling wouldn't have changed if the IOC hadn't taken action in February.

"We could not have the reform, a revolution movement, without this. It was literally a blessing for the sport," Smith said.

The London Games bronze medalist, Scott, said he didn't know if the IOC would remove wrestling as a core sport in February and return it to the 2020 Olympic program in September.

"There are a lot of kids here," Scott said as he looked around the Hall of Fame. "This was for them."

Scott hopes to represent USA Wrestling at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He isn't sure he will be wrestling competitively in 2020 although he could be coaching Olympic hopefuls.

The rule changes already are in place. Scott said it has made wrestling a more entertaining sport by emphasizing scoring.

"It has brought a lot of excitement back. The scores have doubled. It's back to wrestling. What we love and grew up doing," Scott said. "... It will be awesome in the long run for us."

Wrestling added two weight divisions for female wrestlers and dropped one for males in freestyle. There are six weight divisions for males in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Gender equity was highlighted in the presentations by baseball-softball and squash, too.

"Every sport hit it in their presentation. They wanted gender equity. That's what the IOC is looking for. It's important that we did that. It's good for the sport. It might have saved us," Scott said.

Guerrero, the OSU wrestling assistant, said wrestling had 14 men's weights and four women's weights.

"We have moved to a much more equal situation that I think everybody is happy with," Guerrero said.

Oklahoma State University's wrestling coach has golden Olympic memories as an athlete and coach. 

Smith said Sunday's IOC decision created another Olympic moment.

"This one was a great moment for me as a fan of wrestling," Smith said. "Obviously, I have had a chance to coach Olympic teams and be a part of that process after I wrestled, which was as enjoyable as ever. From this point forward, I am going to be a fan of wrestling. ... I'm just really pleased that through this whole process that I learned how strong wrestling was throughout the world," Smith said.

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