By Duncan Mackay

Valentin Jordanov at press conference Sofia February 20 2013February 20 - Bulgarian Wrestling Federation President Valentin Yordanov has registered a unique protest against the decision to remove his sport from the list of core sports by sending back the gold medal he won at Atlanta in 1996. 

He has returned the medal to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, along with a letter complaining about the decision taken by its ruling Executive Board last week to recommend wrestling for the axe from the Games after Rio 2016. 

"As a sign of protest I am returning my gold medal, won at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, to the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne," Yordanov wrote in a letter to Rogge shown at an emotional news conference in Sofia.

"With this act I express my solidarity with the millions of athletes and fans of our sport who are condemning the recommendation of the IOC.

"Our sport is an integral part of the Olympic Movement and one of the foundations of both the Ancient and Modern Olympics."

Valentin Yordanov on podium Atlanta 1996Valentin Yordanov celebrates winning the Olympic gold medal but is now returning it to IOC President Jaques Rogge in protest at the decision to remove wrestling from the Games

Bulgarian wrestlers have won a total of 68 Olympic medals, including 16 gold, making wrestling their most successful sport since they made their debut in the Games at Athens in 1896.

Yordanov, the only wrestler to win 10 medals at World Championships, retired in 1996, soon after winning the gold at the Atlanta Games in the freestyle 52-kg category.

He had won the Olympic bronze medal in Barcelona four years earlier.

Some of Bulgarian wrestling's biggest names expressed their support for Yordanov, predicting that they believed that the IOC would scrap the plans to drop the sport.

Wrestling will now join the seven sports bidding to be included on the Olympic programme - baseball/softball, karate, roller sports, squash, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu - giving presentations to the IOC Executive Board in St Petersburg at the end of May.

The final decision on which should be included as a core sport for 2020 will be taken by the full IOC Session in Buenos Aires in September.

Bulgarian Greco-Roman wrestling national team coach Armen Nazarian, a double Olympic champion at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 200, said he was considering going on hunger strike in protest until the decision is reversed.

Armen Nazarian Sydney 2000Armen Nazarian, here in action at Sydney 2000, where he won his second consecutive Olympic gold medal, has threatened to go on hunger strike

Other wrestlers to attend the press conference in the Bulgarian capital to support Yordanov included Petar Kirov, a double Olympic champion at Mexico City 1968 and Munich 1972; Alexander Tomov, who won consecutive Olympic silver medals in 1972, 1976 and 1980; and Serafim Barzakov, a silver medallist at Sydney 2000.

Yordanov, who is now 53, claimed Rogge had achieved something that many politicians had failed to do.

"He unreservedly united Russia, the United States and Iran for a single cause - saving the sport of wrestling, without which the Olympics will never be the same," Yordanov said.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
February 2013: "We have been bad neighbours" admits new International Wrestling chief
February 2013: Putin backs new International Wrestling committee to keep sport in Olympics
February 2013: International Wresting President forced to quit after Olympic shock
February 2013: International wrestling chief must quit after bringing sport "to ruin" demand Russian Federation
February 2013: Wrestling hopes of surviving boosted after IOC members given opportunity of voting on sports for 2020