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Wrestling was featured in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. Along with Russia’s Karelin, it has produced such American stars as Gardner, Bruce Baumgartner, Jeff Blatnick and Jordan Burroughs.

U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun also expressed surprise at the IOC decision, citing “the history and tradition of wrestling, and its popularity and universality.”

“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,” Blackmun said in a statement. “In the meantime, we will fully support USA Wrestling and its athletes.”

FILA said in a statement that it was “greatly astonished” by the decision, adding that the federation “will take all necessary measures to convince the IOC executive board and IOC members of the aberration of such decision against one of the founding sports of the ancient and modern Olympic Games.”

It said it has always complied with IOC regulations and is represented in 180 countries, with wrestling the national sport in some of them.

The federation, which is headed by Raphael Martinetti and based in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, said it would meet next week in Thailand to discuss the matter.

Gardner cited wrestling’s worldwide popularity and urged a campaign to keep it in the Olympics.

“It just seems like wrestling — if we don’t fight, we’re going to die,” he said. “At this point, it’s time for everybody to man up and support the program.”

The decision hit hard in Russia, which has long been a power in the sport.

Mikhail Mamiashvili, president of the Russian Wrestling Federation, suggested FILA had not done enough to keep the sport in the games.

“We want to hear what was done to prevent this issue from even being discussed at the board,” he said on the Rossiya TV channel.

In comments carried by ITAR-Tass, Mamiashvili added: “I can say for sure that the roots of this problem is at the FILA. I believe that Martinetti’s task was to work hard, socialize and defend wrestling’s place before the IOC.”

Alexander Leipold, a 2000 Olympic champion from Germany and former freestyle German team coach, said he was shocked.

“We are a technical, tactical martial sport where the aim is not to harm the opponent,” he said. “Competing at the Olympics is the greatest for an athlete.”

Wrestling’s long history in the Olympics has featured some legendary names and moments:

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