Rulon Gardner signaling his retirement in 2004. The I.O.C. voted to drop wrestling for the 2020 Games.
Wrestling, one of the earliest and most elemental Olympic sports, was dropped from the Summer Games on Tuesday in a stunning and widely criticized decision by the International Olympic Committee.
Women’s freestyle wrestling joined the Games in 2004, but the I.O.C. said it preferred sports that were “relevant” to more fans.
Yet it was precisely the traditional nature of wrestling that appeared to doom it. A shift in priority has occurred in an era of outsize television contracts as Olympic officials seek to add more telegenic sports and more widely visible stars in hopes of maintaining a sense of relevance, modernity and youthfulness in the Winter and the Summer Games.
Both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling will be contested at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but they will be excluded from the 2020 Summer Games, for which a host city has not yet been named, the I.O.C. said Tuesday.
Olympic-style wrestling, with its amateur roots and absence of visibility except during the Games, does not have superstars with widespread international acclaim like Lionel Messi in soccer, Kobe Bryant in basketball, Tiger Woods in golf and Usain Bolt in track. And in the United States, the popularity of Olympic-style wrestling is surpassed by the staged bombast of professional wrestling.
Sports like snowboarding have been added to the Winter Games to broaden their appeal. Golf and rugby will return at the 2016 Rio Games after long absences. Among the sports that wrestling must compete with for future inclusion are rock climbing, rollerblading and wakeboarding.
The I.O.C. may have also grown frustrated that Greco-Roman wrestling did not include women, experts said. Women began participating in freestyle wrestling at the 2004 Athens Games.
The vote to eliminate Olympic wrestling produced immediate and widespread criticism.
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