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Wrestling Favored to Pin Down Final 2020 Olympics Spot

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All Rights Reserved

USA TODAY
September 6, 2013 Friday
FINAL EDITION
SPORTS; Pg. 7C
537 words
Wrestling tough to beat;
Baseball/softball, squash have uphill battle
Kelly Whiteside, @KellyWhiteside, USA TODAY Sports

Leading into Sunday's vote, the presentation teams for the three sports competing for a single spot on the 2020 Olympic program will rehearse their pitches countless times.

Somehow the baseball/softball, wrestling and squash delegations ended up in the same hotel on the same floor. Though they rehearse in separate rooms, they bump into one another in the hallway.

Some are more secretive than others. Squash has kept the identity of its delegation close to the "T," waiting for its big unveil. On the other hand, wrestling has been an open mat.

Don Porter, the American co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, joked about putting an ear to the closed door to eavesdrop on the competition. But in truth, even covert information would be of little use.

When the International Olympic Committee executive board recommended that wrestling be removed from the Olympic program in February, the move hurt the joint bid of baseball/softball and squash probably even more. Just when it seemed like it was squash's time and when softball and baseball agreed to join forces to strengthen their bid, wrestling pulled a double-leg takedown.

Wrestling responded to the IOC's wake-up call, made significant reforms and emerged as the favorite.

"The wrestling decision made it somewhat more difficult because of the surprise of it all," Porter said. "The fact that wrestling has the tradition of being in the Games from the beginning gives them certainly an up. So we have to find a way to overcome that, and that's difficult. Many IOC members do look at tradition."

Assuming wrestling is back in, the whole exercise of adding a new sport now seems pointless. "I'm not sure anyone wants to see wrestling out of the Olympics, so we agree, they have a strong case," U.S. Squash CEO Kevin Klipstein said. "The idea of wrestling never really being 'out' since the full IOC hasn't placed it out yet (only the executive board did), then getting back 'in' would mean that the whole process really had no purpose, and that would be a bitter pill."

For softball, it was a particularly crushing blow. Baseball has pro leagues, the World Series and World Baseball Classic. Softball and wrestling have -- or had -- the Olympics.

After softball was cut, former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch suggested softball join forces with baseball to better its chances. Softball first resisted but finally did so.

To American IOC member Anita DeFrantz, this was a fatal blow. "In Europe, people look at it as one sport, associate the drug problems and the fact that the best athletes in the sport don't compete," DeFrantz said. "By joining baseball, the leadership failed to do the right thing."

Said Porter: "Some have suggested this is a marriage of convenience, but we've made a commitment." With pro leagues, TV and sponsorships, baseball brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the table.

The World Baseball Softball Confederation wants to emphasize its global reach; its presentation team includes Fidel Castro's son, Antonio. But it's significant that there is no Major League Baseball official at the IOC session. Though Commissioner Bud Selig and the players union have pledged support, many details need to be worked out regarding MLB.

September 6, 2013

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