The stunning announcement by the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday that wrestling was being dropped from the 2020 Games left those in the Bay Area grappling community wondering how their sport wound up pinned to the mat.
"It's very surprising considering that wrestling was included in the very first Olympics," said Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold medalist from Palo Alto. "It's a sport that does so much for kids. It's such a character-building sport, the hardest sport."
On Tuesday, the IOC executive board, meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, decided to retain modern pentathlon -- the event considered most at risk -- and remove wrestling from its list of 25 "core sports." The IOC board acted after reviewing the 26 sports on the current Olympic program. Eliminating one sport allows the IOC to add a new sport later this year.
Wrestling will join seven other sports in applying for inclusion in 2020. The others are a combined bid from baseball and softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu, a Chinese martial art. Those sports will vie for one opening.
The IOC executive board will meet in May in St. Petersburg, Russia, to decide which sport or sports to propose for 2020 inclusion. The final vote will be made at the IOC general assembly in September in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is extremely unlikely that wrestling would be voted back in so soon after being removed by the executive board.
Stanford wrestling coach Jason Borrelli said "shocking" was the only word that came to mind after he heard about the IOC's decision.
"When I think of Olympics, I think of nothing less than wrestling," said the former Central Michigan star. "Wrestling is the purest of pure sports."
Because wrestling doesn't have a professional outlet other than mixed martial arts, the Olympics is the goal for kids who start the sport.
"You remove that from the youth level and you wonder what will happen down the road," Borrelli said. "Now it has been ripped from our kids, it's hard for me to sit back and accept."
Acceptance isn't hard only for Borrelli. On Tuesday, several online petitions to save Olympic wrestling popped up within hours of the IOC announcement.
"This is an odd decision because it's really so popular around the world," Schultz said. "When you look at the TV numbers, it's really incredibly popular."
Schultz and his brother, Dave, became the first siblings in U.S. history to win Olympic wrestling gold in the same Games, accomplishing the feat in 1984 in Los Angeles. Dave was shot to death by John E. du Pont in 1996.
The only sports in which the Americans have won more medals than wrestling are swimming and track and field -- and those two have far more medal opportunities.
Americans have won a record 113 freestyle Olympic medals, by far the most of any nation. Jordan Burroughs -- possibly the best wrestler in the world -- and Jake Varner brought home gold from the 2012 London Games.
"Pretty devastating news," said Gunn High coach Chris Horpel. "I have a hard time believing it's actually going to happen."
Horpel, a former Stanford and Olympic wrestler and former Stanford coach for 25 years, added: "Every high school wrestler aspires to be in the Olympics. There are no professional options. This ruling will hurt wrestling in general."
Wrestling is one of the most popular youth sports in the United States. The National Federation of State High School Associations reports that wrestling was sixth in participation among high school boys with nearly 275,000 competing in 2010-11.
"Given the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality, we were surprised when the decision was announced," U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said. "It is important to remember that today's action is a recommendation, and we hope that there will be a meaningful opportunity to discuss the important role that wrestling plays in the sports landscape both in the United States and around the world."
Wrestling was voted out from a final group that included modern pentathlon, taekwondo and field hockey, officials familiar with the vote told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the voting details were not made public.
The board voted after reviewing a report by the IOC program commission that analyzed 39 criteria, including television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy, global participation and popularity. With no official rankings or recommendations contained in the report, the final decision by the 15-member board was also subject to political, emotional and sentimental factors.
Wrestling featured 344 athletes competing in 11 medal events in freestyle and seven in Greco-Roman at last year's London Olympics. Women's freestyle wrestling was added to the Olympics at the 2004 Athens Games.
Salinas immigration lawyer Patricia Miranda, a Saratoga High alum, once competed on the Stanford men's team. In 2004, she became the first American woman to win an Olympic wrestling medal.
"A lot of interest dies once the Olympic dream isn't there," she said. "It's time to start building the future security of the sport. It's physical chess: How can someone not love that?"
Said 2004 Olympic gold medalist and Penn State coach Cael Sanderson: "I do think wrestling people are the strongest in the world, and they're resilient. And we'll come out of whatever happens. But short term, yeah, it's sad."
Staff writer Glenn Reeves and The Associated Press contributed to this report.