A revamping of leadership and tweaking of rules made a big difference as amateur wrestling moves one step closer to reinstatement.
The International Olympic Committee Executive Board voted Wednesday to put wrestling on the short list of three sports in the running to fill the final spot for the 2020 and 2024 summer Olympics. The other two are a baseball/softball combination and squash.
The ruling came little more than three months after the IOC decided to drop wrestling as one of the core sports for 2020.
"For sure the rule changes helped us," said Nenad Lalovic, who was recently named president of FILA, wrestling's international governing body.
The change at the top of the FILA leadership was one part of a reform movement that has surrounded wrestling since the IOC's Feb. 12 decision. The changes were aimed at persuading the IOC to consider wrestling for 2020 as well as making the sport more spectator-friendly and easier for the layman to understand.
Among the rule changes made was a switch to cumulative scoring instead of a best of three-period format. Wrestlers will also compete in two three-minute periods instead of three two-minute stanzas.
"I'm very relieved, very pleased for the sport," said Jim Scherr, commissioner of the Colorado Springs-based National College Hockey Conference and a 1988 Olympic bronze medalist who chairs the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling formed after the IOC decree shocked his sport. "But this is only the first step."
Lalovic said of the victory Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Russia: "While our place in the Olympic Games is still not guaranteed, this decision recognizes the great lengths to which we are going to reform our sport."
USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender agreed that the fight for reinstatement is not over.
"This is good news for wrestling, but obviously this is going to be a process," said Bender, whose organization is based in Colorado Springs. "There is a lot of work ahead, but we're up to the challenge. The entire wrestling world needs to continue to push forward. We need to continue to work diligently and makes upgrades and changes to the sport to ensure we are successful in Buenos Aires."
The entire IOC membership will meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and vote Sept. 8 on which of the three sports will earn the 28th and final spot for 2020.
Wrestling dates back almost 5,000 years and was a part of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece that first took place around 700 B.C. The sport, which has been a core summer Olympic sport for more than 100 years, was one of eight prospective sports that made 30-minute presentations Wednesday.
The five sports that didn't make the cut were karate, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.
The IOC board voted by secret ballot over several rounds, with wrestling winning on the first round with eight of the 14 votes.
Baseball-softball beat karate 9-5 in a head-to-head vote to win its spot on the list. Squash got through in the final round, getting eight votes to defeat wushu with four and sport climbing with two.
Baseball and women's softball joined together to try to improve their chances. Both have not been in the Olympic mix since the Beijing Games of 2008. Both were cut by the IOC in 2005, becoming the first sports ousted since polo in 1936.
Squash is making its third bid to become an Olympic sport. The IOC had a goal
of adding a new sport for 2020.
"It was never going to be an easy decision but I feel my colleagues on the board made a good decision in selecting baseball-softball, squash and wrestling," IOC President Jacques Rogge said in a statement. "I wish the three short-listed sports the best of luck in the run-up to the vote in September and would like to thank the other sports for their hard work and dedication."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.