Rarely, if ever, has so much been on the line at a single Olympic meeting.
When International Olympic Committee members gather next week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, they will be faced with three decisions that will shape the direction of the Olympic movement for the next decade.
At stake: Choosing the host city of the 2020 Olympics, electing a new IOC president to succeed Jacques Rogge and selecting one sport to add to the 2020 program.
The favorites: Tokyo, Thomas Bach and wrestling.
Prime ministers, royalty, sports stars and celebrities will be part of the election extravaganza at the IOC session. The weeklong meetings will have the flavor of a political carnival replete with last-minute campaigning, backstage vote-chasing and round-the-clock lobbying by spin doctors, consultants and strategists.
While most IOC members are primarily interested in the Sept. 10 presidential election, the first big vote comes on Sept. 7 with a secret ballot on the 2020 host city.
It's a three-way contest between Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul.
All three are repeat candidates: Istanbul is making its fifth overall bid, Madrid a third straight attempt and Tokyo a second try in a row.
Tokyo has been seen as a slight front-runner, though the leak of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant is causing concern. Madrid — once counted out because of Spain's economic crisis — has picked up momentum recently and now looks like a legitimate challenger. Istanbul has slipped following the anti-government protests and doping scandals in Turkey and the escalating war in neighboring Syria.
With each bid facing political, economic or other drawbacks, the winner could be determined not for its positive attributes but for having fewer weaknesses than its rivals.
"There's no obvious choice," senior Canadian IOC member Dick Pound told The Associated Press. "Where do you go? None of the three is risk free. Probably somebody ends up backing into it this time."
Each city offers a different narrative. Istanbul would bring the games to a new part of the world, to a predominantly Muslim country for the first time, to a city linking Europe and Asia. Madrid has most of the venues ready and would spend the least. Tokyo offers safety and reliability at a time of global uncertainty.
In the end, the decision could center on which city offers the least risk. After taking gambles by sending the 2014 Winter Games to Sochi, Russia, and 2016 Olympics to Rio de Janeiro, some members feel it's time to opt for certainty. Delays in Rio are causing serious concerns and the IOC is eager to avoid more headaches.
"We're looking for the city which we can look toward to be the most secure option at this stage, given global uncertainties and the fact that we're entering into a new era with a new presidency," longtime Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper said. "We're looking for a safe pair of hands."
That sentiment works in favor of Tokyo, which hosted the games in 1964 and has repeatedly played up its case as being the "safe" choice. Tokyo also received the best overall review in an IOC technical report this summer.
"Of course we know how serious the Japanese are and we know they would deliver what they propose for sure," Swiss IOC member and presidential candidate Denis Oswald said.
The last few days and hours of the campaign could be vital. The final presentations on the day of the decision could swing a few votes that decide the outcome. Leading the bid delegations will be prime ministers Shinzo Abe of Japan, Mariano Rajoy of Spain and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
With a majority required for victory, the city with the fewest votes from the 100-or-so members is eliminated after each round. In this case, the vote is expected to go the maximum two rounds.
"I think the ultimate choice will be a matter of a difference of two, three votes, not more than that," Rogge said.
Members often vote for personal, sentimental or geographical reasons. Some will still be undecided when they get to Buenos Aires.
"IOC members vote with their hearts, not with their heads," veteran Norwegian member Gerhard Heiberg said. "They will look at the presentations and vote right there and then, not thinking that this is seven years ahead. That could decide who will take the gold medal."
Tokyo also can benefit from the sentimental factor of using the Olympics to help rebuild the nation's spirits after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Yet, it's the fallout from the disaster that is now posing the bid with its biggest challenge — the leak of radiation-tainted water into the Pacific from the crippled plant.
"Japan has got to recover from the real effects and perceived effects of the biggest nuclear meltdown since Chernobyl," Pound said. "That's not chopped liver."
Madrid's bid has been hindered by the economic meltdown in Spain, which has been mired in recession for most of the past four years and has a 26.3 percent unemployment rate. In addition, Rajoy has been embroiled in a party financing scandal, and Spain's record on doping and handling of the Operation Puerto case have dogged the bid.
But Madrid, and a speech by Crown Prince Felipe, made the biggest impact in presentations to IOC members in Lausanne, Switzerland, in early July. The Spaniards hammered home this point: The games pose no economic risk, 80 percent of the venues are ready, the construction budget will be only $1.9 billion ($10 billion less than Istanbul's).
The message resonates at a time when the Olympics are being criticized for being too expensive— the price tag for construction in Sochi is more than $50 billion. Madrid's strong showing in the 2012 and 2016 races also underlines its capability of securing votes.
Once seen as a favorite because of its compelling story line, Istanbul — which bid previously for the 2000, '04, '08 and '12 Olympics — has been scrambling to keep in contention after a tumultuous summer in Turkey.
Images beamed around the world of police using force on anti-government protesters in the heart of Istanbul in June rocked the bid. More than 30 Turkish track and field and other athletes were suspended for doping. FIFA complained of empty seats at the Under-20 World Cup in Turkey. Civil war continues to rage in Syria, with Western countries now weighing military action in response to suspected chemical weapons attacks.
Three days after choosing the host city, the IOC will pick a leader who will lead the organization through the 2020 Games for a term of eight years — and a potential second term of four years. Rogge is stepping down after completing 12 years in the job.
Making up the record six-man field are IOC vice president Bach of Germany; vice president Ng Ser Miang of Singapore; finance commission chairman Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico; executive board members Sergei Bubka of Ukraine and C.K. Wu of Taiwan; and former board member Oswald.
It shapes up as a three-man race, with Bach the favorite and Carrion and Ng the challengers.
Bach, a 59-year-old lawyer, has long been viewed as the man to beat. He ticks the most boxes: former Olympic athlete and gold medalist (team fencing in 1976), long-serving member on the policy-making board, chairman of the legal commission, head of anti-doping investigations, negotiator of European TV rights, president of Germany's national Olympic committee.
"If you were handicapping, you'd have him in front, but whether it's by a nose or a neck or open water, I don't know," Pound said.
The voting process is the same as for the bid cities.
Some of Bach's supporters believe he could win in the first round. If not, things could get trickier, as it's not clear where the votes will go in the next rounds. Wu and Bubka appear to be the most vulnerable of going out first.
If Bach is elected, he would continue Europe's hold on the presidency. Of the IOC's eight leaders, all have come from Europe except for Avery Brundage, the American who ran the committee from 1952-72.
Bach brushes off the pressure of being the front-runner and exudes confidence heading into the final days.
"I take this campaign like I prepared for a big competition as an athlete," he told the AP. "You know how important good training is, that it's very helpful if your test events are going well. This can give you confidence. But, on the other hand, all that does not count when it comes to the grand final. That is the same for Sept. 10. You want to see the competition taking place. I'm really looking forward to this day."
Wrestling, meanwhile, looks set to end its seven-month limbo and win back its place in the 2020 Games. The vote will take place on Sept. 8, with squash and a combined baseball-softball bid also vying for the single spot on the program.
Wrestling, featured in every Olympics except for 1900, was dropped from the list of core sports by the IOC executive board in February, a stunning decision that provoked an international outcry. The United States joined with unlikely allies Russia and Iran in fighting to save the sport.
Wrestling governing body FILA responded quickly, replacing Raphael Martinetti as president and electing Nenad Lalovic, adding two new weight classes for women and enacting rule changes to make the sport more fan-friendly. In May, wrestling easily made it onto the shortlist for inclusion in 2020.
"I have no doubt it will happen," Oswald said. "It was such a mistake. It has to be corrected."
-- Stephen Wilson
IOC meeting at a glance
WHAT: 125th IOC session, or congress.
WHEN: Sept. 7-10.
WHERE: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
VENUE: Hilton Hotel.
DECISIONS: Voting on 2020 Olympic host city, inclusion of a sport for 2020 Games, election of new IOC president.
2020 CANDIDATES: Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo.
DATE OF VOTE: Sept. 7.
SPORTS CANDIDATES: baseball-softball, squash, wrestling.
DATE OF VOTE: Sept. 8.
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES (6): Thomas Bach, Sergei Bubka, Richard Carrion, Denis Oswald, Ng Ser Miang, C.K. Wu.
DATE OF VOTE: Sept. 10.
-- The Associated Press
2020 Olympic vote at a glance
WHAT: Selection of host city for 2020 Summer Olympics.
WHERE: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
VENUE: Hilton Hotel.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 7.
THE CANDIDATES: Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo.
WHO DECIDES: The International Olympic Committee.
THE MEETING: 125th IOC Session.
THE VOTE: IOC members vote by secret ballot until one city receives a simple majority. City receiving fewest votes is eliminated after each round. Maximum number of rounds will be two.
HOW MANY: IOC has 103 members. President Jacques Rogge chooses not to vote and members from the three bid countries don't vote while their city is still in contention. Spain has three IOC members, Japan and Turkey have one each.
FIRST ROUND: If all members attend, 97 eligible to vote, meaning 49 votes needed for victory. If election goes to second round, member or members from country eliminated in first ballot can vote in second.
PRESENTATIONS: Each city will make 45-minute final presentations, with additional 15 minutes for questions and answers.
THE ORDER: Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid.
THE BALLOT: Voting begins at 3:45 p.m. local time (2:45 p.m. EDT).
THE ANNOUNCEMENT: Ceremony starts at 5 p.m. local time (4 p.m. EDT). Rogge will open sealed envelope and announce winner.
-- The Associated Press
Capsules on 2020 Olympic bids
A look at the three contenders for the 2020 Summer Olympics (IOC vote to be held Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina):
Population: 13 million.
Previous Olympics: None.
Previous bids: 4 — 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012.
Bid leader: Hasan Arat.
Number of venues: 38 — about 70 percent would need to be built; 6 venues would be temporary and dismantled after games.
Organizing committee budget: $2.9 billion.
Infrastructure budget: $19.8 billion.
Public support: 83 percent in Istanbul; 76 percent in rest of Turkey.
Dates: Aug. 7-23.
Slogan: "Bridge Together."
Pros: Vision of bringing Olympics to new region and a predominantly Muslim country for first time; symbolism of holding games in city linking Asia and Europe; "sexiest," most ambitious choice; persistence and commitment shown by fifth bid; strong political support; dynamic bid leader in Hasan Arat.
Cons: June's anti-government protests and police crackdown; doping scandals involving dozens of Turkish athletes; match-fixing scandals in Turkish football; civil war across border in Syria; massive $19.2 billion infrastructure bill for the Olympics; concerns over traffic; seen as another potentially risky choice after games in Sochi and Rio.
IOC evaluation report: "Istanbul 2020 aspires to reposition Turkey and to foster global understanding and inclusiveness by being the first secular Muslim country to host the Games."
Population: 3.3 million.
Previous Olympics: None. Barcelona hosted 1992 Olympics.
Previous bids: 3 — 1972, 2012, 2016.
Bid leader: Alejandro Blanco.
Number of venues: 35 — 28 existing and seven to be built.
Organizing committee budget: $3.10 billion.
Infrastructure budget: $1.94 billion.
Public support: 76 percent in Madrid; 81 percent in rest of Spain.
Dates: Aug. 7-23.
Slogan: "Illuminate the Future."
Pros: 80 percent of venues in place; smallest construction budget of 3 bids; compact layout; persistence of three straight bids; experience in hosting major events; influence of IOC executive board member Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr.; popularity of Crown Prince Felipe; momentum picked up from presentation to IOC in June.
Cons: Spain's economic crisis, including double-dip recession and 27 percent unemployment; corruption scandal swirling around Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy; fallout from doping cases and perceived past laxness against doping; potential of some European members voting against Madrid to position another European city for 2024.
IOC evaluation report: "Taking advantage of its existing, modern infrastructure, Madrid 2020 seeks to demonstrate that the Olympic Games can be organized with low financial investment without compromising the delivery of a high quality Olympic experience."
Population: 13 million; greater Tokyo 36 million.
Previous Olympics: 1964.
Previous bids: 2 — 1960, 2016.
Bid leader: Tsunekazu Takeda.
Number of venues: 36 — 15 existing; 10 would be temporary and dismantled after games.
Organizing committee budget: $3.42 billion.
Infrastructure budget: $4.38 billion. Tokyo has $4.5 billion "hosting reserve fund" in bank.
Public support: 70 percent in Tokyo, 67 percent in rest of Japan.
Dates: July 24-Aug. 9.
Slogan: "Discover Tomorrow."
Pros: Viewed as safest option with less risks; modern, public transport; legacy from 1964 Olympics; sentimental factor of using Olympics to help Japan recover from 2011 earthquake and tsunami; compact venues and short travel times; $4.5 billion already secured; experience in hosting major events; major Olympic media market; bid leader and IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda and bid CEO Masato Mizuno are popular with IOC members.
Cons: Not seen as a "sexy" choice; Tokyo's trouble explaining "why" Japan needs the Olympics; lowest public approval ratings of the three bids; threat of future earthquakes or tsunamis; leak of radioactive water at Fukushima nuclear plant; Japan's territorial dispute with China over uninhabited islands; potential opposition from some Asian members.
IOC's evaluation report: "Tokyo 2020 seeks to use the power of sport to offer hope to the Japanese people and promote national spirit, unity and confidence, in particular following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami."
Status: Slight favorite.
-- The Associated Press
Capsules of six IOC presidential candidates
Capsules of the six IOC presidential candidates, listed in alphabetical order (election to be held Sept. 10 in Buenos Aires, Argentina):
Olympic participation: Team fencing (foil) gold medal at 1976 Montreal Games.
Year joined IOC: 1991.
IOC roles: Member of executive board 1996-2004; vice president 2000-04; vice president since 2006; chairman of evaluation commissions for 2002 Winter Olympics and 2004 Summer Games; chairman of juridical and sport and law commissions; chairman of anti-doping disciplinary commissions; negotiator of European TV rights deals.
Other: President of German Olympic Sports Confederation since 2006.
Slogan: Unity in Diversity.
Pros: Ticks most boxes as former Olympic athlete, head of national Olympic committee, high-ranking IOC member with hands-on experience at all levels; relatively young; fluent French as well as English; comes from Europe, the biggest regional bloc in IOC; key support of Kuwait's Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, influential head of Association of National Olympic Committees.
Cons: Longtime front-runner status puts target on back; "ABB" (Anybody But Bach) movement among some IOC members; recent report on systematic doping in former West Germany; backlash among some members to pro-Bach lobbying by Sheik Ahmad.
Quote: "The IOC president serves this orchestra as a conductor. I will do my very best to conduct the IOC in this way of participation, dialogue, consensus and motivation."
Status: The man to beat.
Occupation: Sports administrator, businessman.
Olympic participation: Four-time Olympian in pole vault; gold medal winner at 1988 Seoul Games. Also a six-time world champion and still world-record holder.
Year joined IOC: 2008.
IOC roles: Member of executive board as athlete representative 2000-08; regular member of executive board since 2012; chairman of athletes' commission 2002-08; chairman of evaluation and coordination commissions for 2010 Youth Olympics; chairman of entourage commission since 2010.
Other: President of Ukraine Olympic Committee; vice president of IAAF.
Slogan: An Olympic Movement Fit for the Future.
Pros: Most famous name among the candidates as pole vault great; young, energetic former athlete; high-ranking positions in IOC, IAAF and national Olympic committee.
Cons: Viewed as too young.
Quote: "I have passion. I have drive. I have energy to dedicate to the movement which gave me basically everything I have. Sport is in my life. Sport is in my genes."
Country: Puerto Rico.
Olympic participation: none.
Year joined IOC: 1990.
IOC roles: member of executive board 2004-12; chairman of finance commission since 2002; chairman of audit committee since 2006; negotiator of U.S. television rights deals.
Other: Chairman and CEO of Popular Inc. and Banco Popular of Puerto Rico; board member of FIBA (international basketball federation) since 2010.
Pros: IOC's top finance man; negotiated record $4.38 billion deal with NBC for U.S. TV rights through 2020; has overseen growth of IOC's reserves from $100 million to $900 million; distinguished public presence; made strong impact in July presentation to members in emotional speech without notes.
Cons: Lack of Olympic sporting background; pigeonholed as a money man; no clear regional backing..
Quote: "We are an organization that is based on values and strong emotions. The minute we forget that, then we're lost."
Status: Among top 3.
Olympic participation: Three-time Olympian in rowing, winner of bronze medal in fours at 1968 Mexico Games.
Year joined IOC: 1991.
IOC roles: Member of executive board 2000-12; chairman of coordination commissions for 2004 Athens and 2012 London Olympics.
Other: President of international rowing federation (FISA) 1989-2013; president of Association of Summer International Olympic Federations (ASOIF) 2000-12; arbitrator on Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Slogan: My 5 Rings.
Pros: Extensive experience; high-profile roles in IOC and international sports federations; legal background; well known among the members; fluent in French, English, German; a European alternative to Bach.
Cons: Age; associated with Swiss control of IOC; identified with old guard rather than new generation.
Quote: "My 40 years of service to the Olympic movement have provided me with a comprehensive understanding of our organization as well as its role and significance in the wider world."
NG SER MIANG
Occupation: Businessman, diplomat.
Olympic participation: None.
Year joined IOC: 1998.
IOC roles: Member of executive board since 2005; vice president since 2009.
Other: President of organizing committee of 2010 Singapore Youth Olympics; vice president of international sailing federation 1994-98; non-resident Singapore ambassador to Norway.
Pros: Candidate from Asia, continent of increasing influence; organizer of inaugural Youth Olympics; affable personality; popular with members; diplomatic experience.
Cons: Seen by some as "too nice"; not viewed as having imposing public presence; potential opposition from some Asian countries.
Quote: "I am proud to be Asian, but I'm also global. To lead a world organization, it is necessary to have a world view. Being from Asia is also advantageous because I would bring to the table a different perspective."
Status: Among top 3.
Olympic participation: None.
Year joined IOC: 1988.
IOC roles: member of executive board since 2012.
Other: President of International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) since 2006.
Slogan: Beyond Olympism, Together.
Pros: Asian candidate; credited with reforming AIBA after replacing corruption-tainted Anwar Chowdhry; longest-serving member of the six candidates.
Cons: Age; lack of influence at highest IOC levels; Taiwan's relations with China, which regards the self-governing island as part of its territory and objects to diplomatic recognition accorded to Taipei.
Quote: "I truly believe that the IOC now needs a leader who is able to harmonize all relationships, delegate his responsibilities to the members and support them in the realization of the Olympic ideals and beyond."
Status: Longest shot.
Baseball-softball join together for Olympic bid
ROME (AP) — After striking out twice, baseball and softball officials are counting on a combined bid to get back into the Olympics.
Following IOC vote defeats in 2005 and 2009 as separate sports, baseball and softball have merged into a single confederation as it competes against wrestling and squash for a single spot on the 2020 Olympic program, which will be decided by a Sept. 8 vote in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"We wanted a partnership that could work together and use the attributes of both of our sports," said Don Porter, the American co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation.
"We've got an awful lot of young female athletes all over the world that are playing our sport and there's a commercial side that baseball has that really strengthens our bid," Porter added. "So if we put it together it's a very strong added value to the Olympic program."
The biggest obstacle to the bid is its failure to guarantee the presence of Major League Baseball players. MLB commissioner Bud Selig has said the season won't be stopped to free players for the Olympics, but the confederation points out that there is plenty of room for negotiations — seven years — if it makes the cut.
"We never asked MLB to stop the season," said Riccardo Fraccari, the Italian co-president of the confederation.
The bid proposes separate men's baseball and women's softball events of eight teams each, played as back-to-back six-day tournaments.
That's a slightly different format from when baseball and softball were last played at the Olympics, at the 2008 Beijing Games. Baseball gained full medal status at the 1992 Barcelona Games and softball followed four years later in Atlanta. But both were dropped from the 2012 program in a 2005 vote.
As things stand now, Fraccari is hoping some MLB players would come even if MLB doesn't stop.
"That's precisely why we chose such a short program — to permit all pros who want to come to do so," Fraccari said. "And that doesn't apply only to MLB players but to players in all the major professional leagues around the world."
But as New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki — who recently passed the 4,000-hit mark in a career split between Japan and MLB — pointed out, baseball already has a successful international tournament for pros with the World Baseball Classic.
While supporting the Olympic bid, he suggested it should be strictly for amateurs.
"They really need to make that division of amateurs to professionals," Suzuki said through an interpreter. "Some countries are going to have all amateurs, some countries are going to have few. Some teams can then say, 'Well, we lost because we didn't have any of our professionals in that game.' So they just need to make it clear: amateurs are going to be here, professionals play in the WBC."
Pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is in the middle of a breakout season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and helped South Korea to gold in Beijing, favors a more open approach.
"Each country should decide on that," Ryu said of the pros vs. amateurs debate.
And there are plenty of countries to decide, with baseball a top sport in the Americas and throughout much of Asia. It's growing in Europe, too, as evidenced by strong performances from the Netherlands and Italy at this year's Classic.
And while softball's epicenter remains the United States, which swept gold at the first three Olympic tournaments, Japan won in Beijing and Australia took home medals from all four Olympic tournaments.
"The one thing that baseball and softball brings to the table and where it can help out the Olympic Games is the sheer size of the market and the sheer size of the number of boys and girls at the youth level that play the sport," said Michele Smith, who played on two of the American teams that won softball gold and also pitched professionally in Japan for 16 years.
Another obstacle for previous bids was baseball's failure to crack down on doping. That changed earlier this month when 13 players, including four All-Stars, were suspended for their involvement in the Biogenesis drug case.
"MLB is working hard to get it out of their sport and we commend them for that," Porter said.
Still, baseball and softball officials realize that wrestling, with a tradition dating to the ancient Olympics, is the favorite.
"But we still think it's open," Porter said.
And if Tokyo is chosen as the 2020 Games host the day before the sport vote, all the better.
As Fraccari noted, "Having their national sport in the Olympics would be special."
-- Andrew Dampf
Wrestling set for final pitch to IOC
Wrestling's seven-month stay in Olympic purgatory is almost complete.
The ancient sport will either emerge from its ultimate crisis stronger than ever — or be forced to adjust to the cruel reality of life outside of the Olympic program.
Wrestling, squash and a combined bid from baseball-softball will make their final pleas to the full IOC assembly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which will vote on which sport gets the last spot in the 2020 Olympics on Sept. 8.
The pitch the IOC will hear from FILA, the sport's international governing body, is that wrestling is a pure, global, evolving and all-inclusive sport that's long been the essence of the Olympic movement.
Now facing the possible end of Olympic wrestling, officials are optimistic they've done all it can to ensure its survival.
"We have done everything possible in this time frame," FILA president Nenad Lalovic said. "We were limited by the time between, (but we did) everything possible, and implemented it."
Wrestling certainly had a lot of work to do — and very little time to do it — after the IOC board's surprising recommendation in February that it be cut from the Olympics.
Issues including leadership, gender equity and a product that many viewed as confusing and unappealing to casual viewers had plagued the sport for years.
FILA responded with quick and sweeping changes in all aspects of the sport.
The organization's first step was to replace Raphael Martinetti as president. Martinetti resigned just days after the IOC's recommendation in favor of Lalovic, and Lalovic immediately went to work improving wrestling's ties to the IOC.
Lalovic believes that FILA's once-strained relationship with the IOC has since improved. In fact, wrestling answered the IOC's request for more gender equity by adding two weight classes to women's freestyle.
The change, which comes at the expense of one weight class in men's freestyle and Greco-Roman, will go into effect for the 2016 Rio Games.
FILA has also allocated more positions for women in its governance, including a vice presidency and a three spots on its bureau.
"They've helped us a lot, in order to make us look better," Lalovic said of the IOC.
A more engaged federation and increased gender equity should help wrestling's cause. But rules changes designed to make wrestling easier to understand and more fun to watch could prove to be the difference.
The sport dropped the controversial rule forcing an athlete to pick a ball from a bag to determine overtime positions. The lucky wrestler who was awarded the offensive spot on a blind draw almost always prevailed.
Wrestling also notably switched from a best-of-three periods format to a pair of two, three-minute frames with cumulative scoring, along with points incentives designed to encourage much more active wrestling.
After resisting change for decades, wrestling knew it had to show it can adapt to modern times.
"The rules are better than they were on February 12th. I think everyone in wrestling agreed that the ball pull ... wasn't something that really fit with the sport. The two, three-minute cumulative scoring and the elimination of the luck of the draw concept has really made the sport," USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said. "I think it's also been an opportunity for the sport to galvanize itself around wrestling, and I think that's a good thing."
Despite what many misconstrued as a death sentence from the IOC, wrestling is considered the favorite to remain in the Olympics.
The rallying cries from the wrestling community and beyond shined as much light to the sport's virtues as any other instance in recent memory.
Wrestling's plight also forced rivals like the United States, Russia and Iran to unite around the "Keep Olympic Wrestling" cause — which fans kept in the public eye through various social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter.
Wrestling capitalized on its momentum by being the first sport to make it through to the IOC's shortlist for Buenos Aires in a vote in St. Petersburg in late May.
The sport now has one more round to go, this time in front of the IOC's general assembly. Officials are hoping the changes they've enacted are enough to secure the sport's tenuous future.
"We changed the rules ... we changed the constitution," Lalovic said. "Our aim is to have one of the best organized federations, and we'll succeed at this whether we succeed in Buenos Aires or not. Because succeeding or not, we'll never stop fighting for our position."
-- Luke Meredith
Squash an outsider in bid to become Olympic sport
GENEVA (AP) — In the two-year contest for a single spot in the 2020 Olympics, squash long seemed to be the front-runner.
The World Squash Federation delivered a more dynamic and television-friendly game to answer constructive criticism following two previous failed attempts to gain Olympic status.
Squash also figured to be popular with future hosts, which are stretched to stage 28 sports within budget and without creating "white elephant" venues. Squash offers a flexible, cost-effective option with potential to find an eye-catching location on the city's landscape.
Then, in February, everything changed.
Seven months before the Sept. 8 vote in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the International Olympic Committee's executive board upset all calculations by removing wrestling from the list of core Olympic sports. Modern pentathlon was predicted as a more likely victim, while taekwondo and field hockey were also in the discussion.
When squash was — as predicted — chosen by the same IOC board on a three-sport shortlist in May, it was alongside a strong showing from wrestling and the combined forces of baseball-softball, two more sports which recently lost Olympic status.
"As far as the World Squash Federation is concerned, we are looking at it as two matches," the governing body's president, N. Ramachandran, told The Associated Press in an interview. "The first match was to get on to the shortlist, which we did. The second match is now to get into the Olympic Games program."
Ramachandran was relatively new to his role four years ago, when squash was beaten by golf and rugby sevens in the contest to choose two new sports for the 2016 Games.
By July 2011, the Indian businessman was leading a widespread overhaul of the Victorian-era game when the IOC confirmed its candidacy for 2020 inclusion against baseball, softball, karate, roller sports, sports climbing, wakeboard and wushu.
"We felt we had to radically change our sport — the way we present our game to broadcasters, the way we judge our sport and the way the sport itself is played," Ramachandran said.
Most eye-catching are colored glass courts on which scores, replays and video review decisions — using the Hawk-Eye camera system like tennis, cricket and English Premier League football — are projected.
"The floor of the court becomes a scoreboard," Ramachandran said.
First-time viewers also now discover a simpler scoring system where players get a point for each rally won, replacing the traditional rule of scoring only when holding serve. Matches are played faster and extra referees help judge on let calls when players impede each other in the confined court space.
The court is potentially key to the appeal of squash, which has dropped glass boxes into distinctive tournament locations such as the Pyramids in Egypt and Grand Central Station in New York.
"I could do it on the bridge over the Bosphorus, in a bullfighting ring or in the Imperial Palace gardens," said Ramachandran, eyeing his sport's potential home in 2020 in Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo — a decision that IOC members will make on Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires.
"You tell me where to put it, and I will do it," he said. "You can put them up in a matter of three days."
Ramachandran sees squash fulfilling its Olympic mandate because an Olympic gold medal would instantly become the pinnacle of a player's career.
And even with only 32 men and 32 women playing in the Olympic events, squash would likely see medals won by less heralded Olympic teams.
"It's a chance of getting new countries on to the medal podium," Ramachandran said.
Egypt won only two silver medals at the London Olympics — in men's fencing and wrestling — yet it has five men in the current top-10 rankings in squash.
"We have had male and female world champions from each of the five continents. Tell me how many sports will have that?" Ramachandran said.
Enthusiasm flows in the Indian official's speech, and he leads a campaign that has been backed by tennis greats including Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters. Within the IOC membership, Prince Tunku Imran of Malaysia — one of Ramachandran's predecessors as world squash leader — has also pushed its case.
Still, wrestling appears to have the influential support of Russian President Vladimir Putin for a campaign that has brought the United States and Iran into a common cause.
"It's just like any other election — people make up their minds fairly quickly," Ramachandran said. "I accept it (the result) with all humility."
-- Graham Dunbar
Capsules on three sports seeking 2020 Olympic spot
A look at the three sports in contention for one spot in the 2020 Olympics (IOC vote to be held Sept. 8 in Buenos Aires, Argentina):
Olympic history: Baseball — exhibition or demonstration sport seven times; medal sport in 5 Olympics (1992, '96, 2000, '04, '08). Softball — in 4 Olympics (1996, 2000, '04, '08). Both voted out by IOC in 2005 after 2008 Games. Failed in separate bids for reinstatement.
Federation: World Baseball Softball Confederation.
Bid leaders: Riccardo Fraccari (baseball) & Don Porter (softball).
Bid plans: International baseball and softball federations merged this year to improve Olympic chances; separate men's baseball and women's softball tournaments of eight teams each; played as back-to-back six-day tournaments at a single venue.
Pros: Baseball hugely popular in parts of Asia and Latin America; softball would bring women's sport back to games; no other bat-and-ball sport in the Olympics; Olympics is pinnacle for women's softball players; perseverance of both sports in seeking Olympic return.
Cons: Baseball criticized for not delivering top major leaguers to the Olympics; MLB won't stop the season to free players for the games; high-profile doping scandals in baseball; Olympics not the ultimate goal for baseball players; both sports lack support and popularity in Europe.
Quote: "We've got a lot of young girls and boys out there who want to get their Olympic dreams back." — Don Porter.
Chances: Likely headed for another strikeout.
Olympic history: None. Just missed out on Olympic inclusion for 2012 and 2016.
Federation: World Squash Federation.
Bid leader: M. Ramachandran.
Bid plans: Men's and women's tournaments, each of 32 players, played over five days. Matches played in two glass courts. Video review for refereeing decisions; replays on giant screens.
Pros: All five continents have produced men's and women's world champions; bid supported by tennis greats Roger Federer and Andre Agassi; squash played in other major multi-sports events (Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Pan American Games); Olympics would be peak for squash athletes; clean doping record.
Cons: Olympics already has three racket sports (tennis, badminton and table tennis); questions over how spectator- and TV-friendly sport would be; sport's elitist image; questions over how universal sport truly is.
Quote: "The last time ... we had not changed our sport to suit the standards of the IOC. Now we have done that. We have spoken to the IOC. We have improved our sport and the result is there for everybody to see." — M. Ramachandran.
Chances: Once the favorite, now maybe a stroke too far.
Olympic history: Dates back to ancient Olympics. Either Greco-Roman or freestyle wrestling or both have been in every modern Olympics except 1900. Surprisingly dropped from 2020 Games in February but made shortlist in May for possible inclusion.
Federation: International Wrestling Federation.
Bid leader: Nenad Lalovic.
Bid plans: FILA changed leadership, with Lalovic replacing Raphael Martinetti, and adopted new fan-friendly rules after IOC snub. Scoring system simplified to reward attacking tactics. Women's medal classes to be increased.
Pros: Feeling that wrestling never should have been dropped in first place; FILA reacted well by making wholesale changes to improve the federation and sport; one of the most traditional of all Olympic sports; dynamic new leader in Lalovic; heavyweight backing of U.S., Russia, Japan, Iran and other countries.
Cons: Inclusion would rule out addition of new sport; bringing back wrestling would mark IOC flip-flop; scoring rules difficult for average fan to understand.
Quote: "We had the strength to change. We made mistakes in the past for sure. Now we are looking forward. We don't look back." — Nenad Lalovic.
Chances: A virtual lock.
-- The Associated Press
IOC inspectors to deliver clear message: speed up
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — IOC inspectors are sure to deliver a clear message to organizers of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics when they arrive for a two-day visit: end delays and speed up.
For their part, Rio officials are expected to promise that preparations are on course after a late start. Privately, they'll try to soothe concerns about a slowdown in landing local sponsorships, worries over hotel space and transportation and recent protests over big spending on major sports events.
International Olympic Committee inspectors, led by former hurdles champion Nawal El Moutawakel, will be at work Sunday and Monday. During the last visit six months ago, IOC executive director Gilbert Felli said: "We don't have any yellow card to send to Rio."
Any such warning this time would be a reminder of the 2004 Olympics in Athens when then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch issued his famous "yellow card" reprimand to Greek organizers.
At least two members of the coordination commission — Richard Carrion and former Olympic gold-medal swimmer Alex Popov — have said things need to move quicker.
"There are games that are better prepared and games that give us a little more trouble," Carrion said.
These games are still three years away and sure to stay off the radar until Brazil hosts soccer's World Cup next year, giving local organizers room to maneuver.
This is a challenging moment for South America's largest country, which is trying to organize two mega-events and is facing pushback from citizens who question spending so much on sports events, particularly in a country with vast inequality, high prices and a slowing economy.
Brazil is spending about $13.3 billion of largely public money on the World Cup. Olympic organizers are expected to announce their budgets in a few months, but public spending could be similar to that of the World Cup — or higher.
Leo Gryner, chief operating officer of the Rio games, acknowledged in a recent interview with The Associated Press that organizers were six to eight months late in starting to build venues.
Gryner said that $700 million in public money may be needed to balance the operating budget. This is the budget to run the games themselves and is expected to be as much as $4 billion when it's announced. He attributed any shortfall to inflation, the sluggish economy and a struggle to sell local sponsorships.
Gryner said the capital budget — a mix of public and private money aimed at building supporting infrastructure for the Olympics — could be 35 percent above the $11.6 billion listed in the original bid.
Sebastian Coe, who headed the 2012 London Olympics, is expected to be in Rio this year to brief officials about what to expect the next two years.
"I still instinctively believe Rio will be a really good games," Coe said. "They will be different. There's a different level of expectation. With every Olympics, they always get there. Some are probably a little bit harder. The IOC will privately tell you some of those journeys are a little bit tougher."
Gryner singled out accommodations as a top priority.
"We will have as many rooms as we need," he said.
Soaring hotel prices are already a problem for the World Cup. The Brazilian government and the justice ministry reportedly are looking into reports that some hotels are gouging and have raised rates by 500 percent.
There are also doubts about Brazil's airports. The facilities in Sao Paulo and Rio are rated among the hemisphere's worst, which inspectors have surely noticed traveling through the country. Airports could also face problems accommodating a surge in private jets used by many visitors to the World Cup and Olympics.
Another problem area is the Deodoro Olympic Park, one of four core areas for the games. This run-down northern part of the city has long been neglected and will host equestrian events and a half-dozen others.
"It's a renovation of an area that hadn't been getting any attention and lacked sanitation systems for many, many years," Gryner said.
"Now that we have all the construction starting, and the last (place) will be Deodoro," Gryner added. "We have plans to show them (IOC inspectors), and we have the exact starting date, and finishing date for every venue. We can say exactly where we are."
The other core areas for the games include: the Barra area, located in the south and miles away from the city's famous Ipanemaand Copacabana beaches; the area around Rio's Maracana stadium near the city center; and the Copacabana area.
Soccer will be played in Rio, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte and Salvador.
Rio officials are expected to tell IOC officials that grass will be going down later this year on the new golf course, which will mark the return of the sport to the Olympics.
In addition to the pace of preparations, IOC officials may face questions about the following:
— WADA's suspension of an anti-doping laboratory in Rio. The lab, the only WADA-accredited facility in Brazil, can reapply for accreditation, but the revocation is an embarrassment to games officials.
— The resignation several weeks ago of Marcio Fortes, who headed the public body coordinating planning for the games among the local, state and national governments. Fortes, who handed in his resignation to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, headed the Olympic Public Authority and complained he had been marginalized in decision making. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has said coordination is going well and the position is not needed.
— The use of the games to upgrade some of the city's transportation infrastructure. The three biggest projects are: a 9-mile extension of the city's subway system into the Barra area; adding four high-speed bus lanes; and renovating a decaying port.
"There is tremendous pressure with the Olympics," Gryner said. "It's a huge project and we have very big ambitions for the transformation of the city of Rio. We are not losing the opportunity of what the Olympics can bring the city."
-- Stephen Wade
Konig wins eighth stage of Vuelta, Roche takes lead
ESTEPONA, Spain (AP) — Czech rider Leopold Konig used a final uphill surge to win the eighth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Saturday, while Nicolas Roche took over the leader's red jersey.
Konig passed Igor Anton before holding off Daniel Moreno's sprint to claim the 104-mile ride from Jerez de la Frontera ending with a category-one summit finish at Alto de Penas Blancas.
Konig finished with a time of 4 hours, 9 minutes, 46 seconds. Moreno was 1 second behind, and Roche crossed 5 seconds back.
The strong day moved Konig up to fifth in the overall standings, 29 seconds off Roche's leading pace.
"The first part was steep and the final part more steady. I knew that if I survived the first part I could attack in the second," Konig said. "We are going for the overall classification and to get in the top 10, but also to pick up some stages. So it was a great day for us."
The 25-year-old Konig, who rides for NetApp-Endura, also won a stage of the Tour of California earlier this month.
The ride that took the peloton along the southern coast and then up a steep mountain with spectacular views of the sea below shook up the top part of the overall standings after two days of tranquility.
Roche, the Irish SaxoBank-Tinkoff cyclist, opened up a 17-second lead over Moreno and American veteran Christopher Horner. Former leader Vincenzo Nibali ended up 18 seconds behind.
Former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde was 31 seconds behind in seventh place, while fellow Spanish favorite Joaquim Rodriguez was 1:03 back in 10th.
Roche, who won the second stage last Sunday, said he was surprised that he had taken the lead from Nibali.
"The other day when I attacked and got the win I missed getting the red jersey," Roche said. "I thought that if Nibali focused on other riders I could pick up a few seconds here and there and that's what happened today.
"Every year I come to the Vuelta with the dream of wearing the red jersey one day. It's incredible."
Garmin Sharp rider Daniel Martin abandoned the race before the day's start after falling on Friday.
Sunday's ride is a 104-mile mountainous stage from Antequera to Valdepenas de Jaen. The three-week grand tour finishes in Madrid on Sept. 15.
Bond, Murray win 5th pair title at rowing worlds
CHUNGJU, South Korea (AP) — Hamish Bond and Eric Murray of New Zealand won the men's pair on Saturday at the world rowing championships to claim their fifth straight title in the event.
After a slow start, Bond and Murray moved into the lead at the 500-meter mark and finished comfortably ahead of Olympic silver medalists Germain Chardin and Dorian Mortelette of France. Rogier Blink and Mitchel Steenman of the Netherlands finished third.
Helen Glover and Polly Swann of Britain won the women's pair event, finishing ahead of Roxana Cogianu and Nicoleta Albu of Romania. New Zealand's Kayla Pratt and Rebecca Scown were third.
Kristoffer Brun and Are Strandli of Norway won the men's lightweight double sculls, beating Simon Schuerch and Mario Gyr of Switzerland. Peter and Richard Chambers of Britain finished third.
Laura Milani and Elisabetta Sancassani won the women's lightweight double sculls, claiming Italy's first women's world title. Kristin Hedstrom and Kathleen Bertko of the United States were second, while Lena Mueller and Anja Noske of Germany finished third.
The Netherlands claimed top honors in the men's four, surging ahead of Australia near the finish line. The United States won bronze.
Croatia won the men's quadruple sculls ahead of Germany and Britain. Germany claimed the title in the women's event, beating Canada and Poland.