BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Nenad Lalovic remembers the phone call from a friend seven months ago: Wrestling was being dropped from the Olympics.
"I said, 'What are you talking about?'" Lalovic recalled. "I thought it was a joke."
It wasn't. The IOC executive board in February recommended removing wrestling from the 2020 Olympics, a hammer blow that the sport's leaders never saw coming.
Now, Lalovic is in Buenos Aires as president of a new-look FILA, wrestling's governing body, and leading its final push to save its Olympic status, culminating a frantic six-month campaign that has reshaped the sport.
"That was the best shock therapy," Lalovic said. "When you fall into such a crisis, you either die or you recover. We recovered."
The International Olympic Committee will vote Sunday on including one additional sport to the program of the 2020 and 2024 Games. Wrestling is up against squash and a combined baseball-softball bid.
Barring a major surprise, wrestling looks set to keep its Olympic place.
"What I hear makes me optimistic," Lalovic said, "but a vote is a vote and we have to wait."
In the meantime, the burly, chain-smoking Serb has been working the lobby of the IOC hotel, continuing to make wrestling's case. Leaders of the baseball-softball and squash federations are fighting to keep in the hunt.
"We're still trying to get our message across," said Don Porter, co-president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation. "We know we have an uphill battle but we are doing everything we can to convince the members that baseball-softball will be positive for the Olympic program. I think there are still a lot of members who are undecided."
Squash federation chief N. Ramachandran believes the final presentations before the vote will be crucial.
"We have done our best ... and hope for the best," he said.
After the IOC's stunning decision in February, Raphael Martinetti resigned as FILA president and was replaced by Lalovic. The Serb said it became clear that FILA had failed to modernize the sport and had fallen out of touch with the IOC.
"I don't blame the IOC," Lalovic said. "The guilt is only ours. We lost too many years. But this crisis gave us a fantastic possibility to do so much in such a short time.
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