The independent Etemad newspaper ran a report that described the "axis" of wrestling — Iran, the United States and Russia — as joining forces to keep the sport in the Olympics.
For Iran, it's a mission of serious importance. Wrestling is considered by many to be something of a national sport — not as popular as soccer or with the deep Persian roots of polo, but one that gives Iran a chance to shine in international competitions. Wrestling also is Iran's major medal sport at the Olympics.
Iran won three gold medals, its first in the Greco-Roman division, out of six overall in wrestling at the London Games, and the U.S. took two gold medals out of four overall.
"Do we destroy our historical sites which are symbols of humanity? No. Then, why should we destroy wrestling?" Iranian gold medalist Ali Reza Dabir said shortly after the IOC decision on Feb. 13.
In the current 14-team World Cup tournament in Tehran, the U.S. is joined by other freestyle wrestling powers including Russia and many of the former Soviet republics. Last week, Alexander Mamiashvili, the head of the Russian wrestling federation, said President Vladimir Putin had ordered a committee be formed to contest the IOC decision.
Despite the shared dismay over wrestling's Olympic snub, Iran's state media had only limited reports on the arrival of the American wrestlers — perhaps linked to the official anger over the sanctions that have hit Iran's critical oil exports and blacklisted the country from international financial networks.
The cool reception is in distinct contrast to the almost celebrity welcome given in 1998 to the first U.S. wrestlers who competed in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that collapsed ties between the two countries. Washington cut relations after the U.S. Embassy was stormed, leading to 52 Americans being held hostage for 444 days.
U.S. sports team now make occasional appearances in Iran, but the two countries often compete together in international events.
There also have been some false starts.
In 2009, Iran invited the U.S. women's badminton team to compete in a tournament, then denied visas by saying there was not enough time to process the applications. In late 2011, Iran bowed out of an invitational table tennis exhibition tournament in Qatar that included the U.S., North Korea and Pakistan.
The U.S. has sent more than 30 athletes to Iran under a sports exchange program launched in 2007, and more than 75 Iranian athletes and coaches have visited the United States.
Murphy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP Sports Writer Luke Meredith in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
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