Everyone connected with wrestling exhaled on Wednesday as the IOC said the sport was one of three selected to compete for the last provisional spot in the 2020 and 2024 Olympic Games.
That doesn't mean the next four months are a time to rest.
"This is good news for wrestling, but obviously this is going to be a process," USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender said. "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 and ensure we are successful."
Wrestling, squash and a combined bid from baseball/softball will be presented for a final vote by the IOC general assembly during its meeting in Buenos Aires in September. Only one of those sports will make the cut.
Wrestling officials in the U.S. remain cautiously optimistic after the sport decisively cleared its initial hurdle, advancing with eight of 14 votes in the first round. One of wrestling's major issues in the eyes of the IOC had been the failure to modernize the sport and make it more fan-friendly.
In the past few months, wrestling federations in the U.S. and beyond took steps to persuade the IOC to give the sport another shot.
The U.S.-based Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling was formed less than a week after the IOC's stunning recommendation in February. Chaired by past Olympic medalist Bill Scherr and aided by the likes of Dan Gable and Rulon Gardner, it teamed up with other national federations and FILA, the sport's international governing body, to push major changes designed to address IOC concerns.
Many of those tweaks, which centered upon revamping FILA's leadership structure, improving opportunities for women and adopting fan-friendly rules changes, were approved at a FILA congress in Moscow earlier this month.
"CPOW and FILA, in three months, did nearly the impossible in terms of monumental changes in our sport. Between rules changes, governing structure to looking at the presentation of we're going to display wrestling moving forward." U.S. men's freestyle coach Zeke Jones told The Associated Press. "They did a magnificent job."
According to Jones, the changes pushed forward by both FILA and CPOW to make matches easier for fans to understand and enjoy have already been encouraging. Matches now consist of two three-minute periods with cumulative scoring, rather than a best-of-three format that often discouraged wrestlers with leads to continue competing aggressively.
Takedowns are now worth two points instead of one under the new rules, and 10-point leads earn wrestlers a technical fall.
The changes were used at an international exhibition in Los Angeles on May 19 and at a recent national event in Akron, Ohio. Jones said he was pleased by the immediate spike in action the new rules created.
"We unleashed the wrestlers to score," Jones said. "We hadn't seen this kind of scoring in decades....it looks like the wrestlers are free again. It looks like they're uncaged from the wrestling mat."
Still, wrestling must now compete with America's national pastime and squash to land that final spot.
"The strategy is simple. Continue these changes, speak individual with every IOC member and make sure they know the strength of wrestling that currently exists, the changes that we just made and our plans for the future," said CPOW member Jim Scherr, who was part of FILA' presentation team to the IOC. "Hopefully that will carry the day, and I think it will. I think we'll be successful."