U.S. freestyle wrestler Obe Blanc warms up for an exhibition wrestling match at Grand Central Terminal, Wednesday, May 15, 2013, in New York. "The Rumble on the Rails" exhibition, featuring teams from the USA, Iran and Russia, raises money for charity but is also aimed at drawing attention to the sport's attempt to stay in the Olympics.
The halls of Grand Central Terminal Wednesday were echoing with curious chants and cheers from an international wrestling match.
Wrestlers from the world's top teams — Russia, the U.S. and Iran — faced off in the iconic train station's Vanderbilt Hall for Rumble on the Rails, an event aimed at raising funds for a New York City wrestling program and raising the profile of a sport fighting to get off the Olympic chopping block.
Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee recommended that wrestling, a fixture on the Olympic docket since the first modern Games, be cut from the Summer Olympics beginning in 2020. Since then, wrestling organizers have been working to promote the sport ahead of a final vote.
"We're all working together for the same reasons," Olympic wrestling champion and pro wrestler Kurt Angle said from the event, adding that wrestling fans have to help advocate for the sport.
"Let your politicians know how much wrestling means to you," he said. "It means everything to me."
Scores of spectators crowded into the makeshift arena, concealed from ticketless commuters and passersby by a heavy black curtain. Supporters of team Iran waved flags, blew horns and chanted for the dominant group, which beat the Americans 6-1 in their first visit to the U.S. in a decade.
Reza Shaibani, a real-estate developer from Long Island, was among a group of Iranian-Americans who came to support Iran's wrestling team and the endangered sport itself.
"I hope it stays in the Olympics," he said. "This is one of the greatest sports, the most ancient sports in the world."
Four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake, from Ithaca, N.Y., was the only American to win a match against Iran. He defeated Hassan Tahmasebi 2-0, 1-0 in his first major international event on the senior level.
But the Americans fared far better against the Russians, winning eight of their nine matches against Russia. That streak began with the men's freestyle team sweeping all five of its matches; afterward, the U.S. women's freestyle team won, too, and the Americans also won two of the three Greco-Roman matches.
The event raised money for Beat the Streets, a group that organizes youth wrestling programs for school-aged kids in New York City.
The competitions come just two weeks before representatives from the eight sports vying for addition to the Summer Olympic lineup make their cases for inclusion at an IOC meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. Officials from wrestling, baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu will all be competing for one open slot in the 2020 Games.
The IOC said its decision to drop wrestling came after analysis of more than three dozen criteria, including ticket sales, TV ratings, global participation and popularity. FILA, the sport's international governing board, issued a statement in February calling the decision an "aberration" and vowing to convince the IOC of its error.
Since then, the U.S., Russia and Iran have formed an alliance for their common cause.
"We'll be standing arm-in-arm with Iran, and we'll be standing with Russia as we will with lots of other countries," Mitch Hull, national teams director for USA Wrestling, told AP Television News in February. "Those (countries) really do make a difference because politically we're not always on the same page, or politically with Russia, but in wrestling, there's no doubt that we are all together in this effort."
The IOC's executive board will make its final decision on the matter at a meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina in September.