6:26 PM PST, February 12, 2013
Wrestling was present at the creation.
It is in the Book of Genesis, where Jacob goes to the mat with an angel.
It is portrayed on a renowned, 2,500-year-old Greek vase, with Hercules wrestling the life out of the previously invincible Antaeus.
It was part of the ancient Olympics, which began about 300 years before an artist painted the vase, and part of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and every Summer Olympics after 1900.
That is why the International Olympic Committee decision that likely will oust wrestling from the Olympics after the 2016 Summer Games seemed so shocking, provoking outrage, disbelief and fear for the sport's future from its adherents worldwide.
"If we are going to be no longer in the Olympics, it's going to have a terrible effect," said former Northwestern coach Ken Kraft, one of the sport's great advocates.
Tuesday's action by the IOC executive board included the usual blend of secrecy, politics and conflicts of interest that makes people think the organization's acronym should stand for Irritating and Obtuse Connivers.
Yet some in the wrestling community saw it coming and warned that the sport's historic stature no longer would be a valid birthright.
"It's a shock based on the relative merit of the sport, but it should not be a surprise for anyone close to FILA (the international wrestling federation) or anyone who understands how the IOC makes decisions," said Bill Scherr, a 1988 Olympic bronze medalist.
"Hundreds of thousands of young wrestlers around the world will suffer because of an inept and ineffective leadership at the sport's international federation. FILA does no lobbying with the IOC, does not participate as a good citizen in IOC activities and does not market itself."
Quick synopsis: In four rounds of voting, the IOC executive board removed wrestling from the list of 25 "core sports" on the 2020 Summer Games program. In May, the same IOC group will decide which of eight candidate sports, including wrestling, to recommend for inclusion on the 2020 program, which can have 28 sports. The full IOC membership then will decide which sports to approve at its annual meeting in September.
Much of what happens next procedurally is unclear. The executive board could recommend one, three or no sports. The voting rules for final approval of new sports have yet to be determined.
It is improbable the IOC will reverse itself on wrestling so soon.
Baseball and softball, ousted after 2008, are making a joint bid to return. Other hopefuls are two martial arts — wushu and karate — sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and inline skating.
"We get caught up in trends and crazes of new sports that won't last," said Northwestern alumnus Jake Herbert, a 2012 U.S. Olympian in wrestling.
The IOC's professed reason for reviewing the core sports on a regular basis is to keep the Olympics relevant. Yet the continued inclusion of sports such as modern pentathlon makes a mockery of that argument and the idea that universality should be a factor in their Olympic presence.
More countries (29) won wrestling medals last summer in London than had participants in modern pentathlon (26), despite the modern pentathlon federation amping up its nation numbers by allowing mediocre athletes from several countries. Wrestling had athletes from 71 countries, in several of which — Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan — it is the unofficial national sport.
"Wrestling gives people of many ethnic and religious and national backgrounds the chance to touch the Olympics in some way — more so than a lot of other sports," said 1988 Olympic wrestler Jim Scherr, a former chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
The problem is the places where wrestling is most popular — Iran, Russia and several other republics of the former Soviet Union — have no clout on the IOC executive board. Neither does the country with the most Olympic wrestling medals, the United States.
None of the executive board's 15 members is from those countries. Eight are from Western Europe. Several have blatant conflicts of interest because they are past or present top officials of the international federations that govern sports under consideration Tuesday, most notably Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. of Spain.
Samaranch, son of the late former IOC president, is a vice president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union. Yet IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Samaranch and all other executive board members were allowed to participate in the discussions and vote on which sports would remain in the Olympics.
According to both Scherrs, wrestling's leaders wrongly assumed their sport was out of danger after giving up two men's weight classes to make room for women in the Olympics.
Bill Scherr heard otherwise while talking to IOC members on behalf of Chicago's failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics, and he sent warnings to FILA through its U.S. representatives.
"In no way were they heeded," he said. "They thought their position as an ancient Olympic sport would protect them."
Now the sport is scrambling to make a belated lobbying effort before the next executive board decision in May while contemplating what it would mean to be ousted from the Olympics.
"Life will still go on, as it did with other sports that were removed," said Bruce Baumgartner, a two-time Olympic champion and four-time medalist. "But the Olympics, for wrestling, is the showcase."
It was the showcase that lured Bill Scheer into the sport after he watched wrestling legend Dan Gable take gold at the 1972 Olympics. That inspiration will be missing, and its absence eventually might lead cash-strapped athletic directors to use that as an excuse to cut college programs.
"The No. 1 goal when you start out in this sport is to think about being an Olympic champion," Montini High School coach Israel Martinez said. "But when something like this happens, you forget about everything else. The only thing that remains is one common goal, and that's to save wrestling."
Tribune reporter Brian Hamilton and Phil English contributed.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC