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S. Korean Olympic champs hail wrestling's reinstatement

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, Sept. 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Olympic wrestling champions on Monday welcomed their sport's reinstatement for the 2020 Summer Olympics, saying they're pleased that the younger generation of athletes will still have chances to fulfill their dreams.

At the 125th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Sunday, wrestling defeated a joint bid of baseball-softball and squash in a secret ballot to earn its place in the program for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

In February this year, wrestling was dropped from the list of IOC's "core sports," a surprise move that set off a campaign by FILA, the international governing body for wrestling, to overhaul its governance and revamp the ancient sport that dates back to the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

South Korea has grabbed 11 gold medals and 35 medals overall in wrestling. The sport also carries a symbolic significance for South Korean sports, as it gave the country its first Olympic gold at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, where Yang Jung-mo won the men's 62-kilogram division in freestyle.

While South Korean marathoner Sohn Kee-chung took the gold at the 1936 Berlin Games, he competed under the Japanese flag while Korea was under Japan's colonial rule.

At a press conference held by the Korea Wrestling Federation (KWF), former Olympic champions said they're glad to see the roller coaster ride end on a good note for wrestling.

"When I first learned that wrestling was dropped from the Olympics (in February), I lost sleep," said Sim Kwon-ho, the Greco-Roman champion in 1996 and 2000, and the only South Korean wrestler to win gold medals in back-to-back Olympics. "And I could hardly sleep (last night) waiting for the good news. Now I feel like I can get some sleep at night."

Sim then called on young wrestlers to keep working hard.

"Our wrestlers are smart athletes who can respond well to different situations in the match," he said. "But compared to my generation, they haven't been able to develop special skills that could get them over the hump."

You In-tak, who won a freestyle gold at the 1984 Olympics, said the new generation of wrestlers will have their work cut out.

"South Korean wrestling is no longer at the world-class level," You said. "I hope everyone in the sport will work together to help us return to the glory days."

Han Myung-woo, also a freestyle champion at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, said he had been worried about the future of younger wrestlers with the sport's fate in the Olympics hanging in the balance. With wrestling back in the Olympic fold, Han said he "felt as great as I did when I won the gold medal."

"I have the impression that young wrestlers today may not be as mentally tough as we were," said Han, now a vice president of the KWF. "I hope they will all have the sense of pride and honor of representing the country and develop more mental and physical strength."

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