Henry Cejudo was getting ready for church recently when he got a call from a reporter at Time magazine, asking for his reaction to the stunning news that wrestling had been dropped from the program for the 2020 Olympics.

"I said: 'What?' My heart sank. My jaw dropped," the 2008 Olympic gold medalist said last week in a phone interview. "I'm just in disbelief."

Cejudo was a two-time Colorado state champion for Coronado High School in Colorado Springs and went on to become an international celebrity in 2008 after winning a gold medal at the Beijing Games.

Denver's Adeline Gray had the same reaction, and last week's decision could impact her harder than it will Cejudo. He has retired, but Gray is a reigning world champion and would be 29 years old in 2020 - in the prime of her career.

Henry Cejudo, medallista de oro en lucha, abraza a su madre Neloly Rico.
Henry Cejudo, medallista de oro en lucha, abraza a su madre Neloly Rico. (Cortesia de Novuss Media)

"I'm in shock," said Gray, a graduate of Chatfield High. "I can't believe it. I really think it's a shame."

The news came from Lausanne, Switzerland, where the executive board of the International Olympic Committee dropped wrestling from its list of "core sports" while retaining modern pentathlon, a more obscure sport involving pistol shooting, fencing, swimming, horse jumping and cross country running.

Wrestling now goes on a list of eight sports seeking inclusion in the 2020 Games: baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu (a Chinese martial arts sport).

Only one will be put on the 2020 program, a decision that will come at an IOC meeting in May. It's unlikely wrestling will be the one selected so soon after being dropped.


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"It is important to remember that (last week's) action is a recommendation," U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun said in a statement, "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. In the meantime, we will fully support USA Wrestling and its athletes."

Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, said his federation was "surprised and disappointed" by the news. "USA Wrestling pledges to be a leader in the international effort to ensure that wrestling remains on the Olympic program," Bender said in a statement.

At the London Olympics last summer, 344 wrestlers competed in 18 medal events (freestyle and Greco-Roman). Men's wrestling dates to the original modern Olympics in 1896, and before that the ancient Olympics in Greece. Women's freestyle was added in the 2004 Olympics.

"I think it's a big hit on women," Gray said. "Women were really making great strides in the sport, and for people to see me as a strong, confident female is very important to me. ... For them to dangle our lives on a string like that is really sad."

No American woman has won a gold medal in the sport, but that is the goal Gray has set for herself at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"I want to be the first one, and I'm going to be," Gray said. "The fact that Rio is going to be where I get to make that happen is exciting, but the future of wrestling is really where (the IOC decision) is impacting. The world is being so blindsided by the fact that wrestling is being cut."

Gray's father, George Gray, is a Denver Police Department detective who works in the gangs bureau. It was hard for him to find the right words to console his daughter.

"She doesn't know how to feel," George Gray said. "She's just numb."

Many in the sport hailed the sport's diversity. In the United States, it can attract middle-class white kids, inner-city blacks and Mexican immigrants like Cejudo, who just turned 26.

"I don't want to dog modern pentathlon, but come on, man," Cejudo said. "I didn't have a horse growing up. I didn't have a gun growing up. Now the IOC, because 15 members decided it's not as popular - which is not true - it's eliminated.

"I have retired, but you want that legacy, you want to have kids who grew up without wrestling shoes make an impact, like I did in 2008. My story was heard all across the world."