U.S. freestyle wrestler Obe Blanc, top, and Iran’s Hassan Rahimi kick off an international wrestling exhibition at Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday in New York. Rahami was declared the winner in the bout. The event dubbed “The Rumble on the Rails” raised money for wrestling nonprofit Beat the Streets but took on added significance because of the International Olympic Committee’s recent recommendation to drop the sport starting with the 2020 Games. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
ORIGINAL POST: 10:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16
UPDATED: 7 a.m. Friday, Friday May 17
Without an official explanation, the Iranian national wrestling team abruptly returned home Thursday and will not compete against a United States squad as planned Sunday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
First reported by the Daily News on Thursday night, the reason for the team’s departure a day after decisively winning an exhibition against the U.S. in an international meet in New York remains a mystery at a critical time in promoting the sport as its Olympic future hangs in the balance
Former Olympic gold medalist and professional wrestler Kurt Angle holds up a T-shirt during a three-nation wrestling exhibition at Grand Central Terminal on Wednesday (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
A goodwill tour ongoing this month involving the U.S., Russia and Iran was to boost awareness for Olympic wrestling, which might be canceled during the Summer Games starting in 2020. Wrestling is one of eight sports seeking to fill one spot in the 2020 Olympics and a key vote by the International Olympic Committee will take place May 29 in Russia to recommend three of eight sports to advance to a final vote in September.
In a joint statement released this morning by USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender and Bill Scheer, the chairman of the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, the program for the “United 4 Wrestling” 2 p.m. event Sunday has been changed to include the U.S. team facing a squad from Russia and Canada instead.
“We have been informed by the Iranian Wrestling Federation that the team’s schedule has changed and they have departed for Iran,” said the statement.
“We are thankful to the Iranian Wrestling Federation for their participation in New York. We had an outstanding competition with the three countries and the Iranians have assured us that they remain committed to the cause of keeping wrestling in the Olympics.”
The U.S. team is scheduled to train this afternoon at Harvard-Westlake High School in Studio City in preparation for Sunday’s event, which organizers had planned to attract many Iranian-Americans to attend as they did in New York.
Iranian fans cheer as Iranin wrestlers compete in an exhibition wrestling match at Grand Central Terminal, Wednesday in New York. “The Rumble on the Rails” exhibition, featuring teams from the United States, Iran and Russia, raised money for charity but is also aimed at drawing attention to the sport’s attempt to stay in the Olympics. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Wednesday, the Iranian team defeated the U.S. team, six matches to one, during their first visit to the U.S. in a decade. Fans waved Iranian flags and blew horns loudly.
“It was really loud in there,” said U.S. wrestler Kyle Drake afterward in an Associated Press story. “Feels like we were in Tehran. What’s going on? Where’s our USA folks?”