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US, Iran Go to the Mat for Olympic Wrestling

The United States and Iran rarely agree on much. But now sports officials in both countries are going to the mat to try to save wrestling as an Olympic sport.

World Championship wrestling in Tehran pits the United States against Iran. But the match is about more than victory for one side or the other. For the wrestlers and their coaches, it is the start of a shared struggle.

"I would like to invite you to New York city on May 16," said Rich Bender of USA Wrestling. To which Mohammad Aliabadi of the Iranian National Olympic Committee answered, "I would like to visit New York City."

The reason for the U.S. invitation for a show of solidarity with Iran? The International Olympic Committee's announcement this month that it plans to drop wrestling as an Olympic sport for the 2020 Summer Games.

It's a decision that was greeted with dismay in wrestling-crazy Iran and by fans and officials in the U.S.

So when the U.S. team arrived in Tehran this week for the World Championships, Mitch Hull with the U.S. national wrestling team, says the solution seemed simple - work together.

"Politically, we're not always on the same page with Iran, or politically with Russia, but in wrestling there's no doubt that we are all together in this effort, and we consider Iran one of our strongest allies in the sport of wrestling," he said.

For now, officials and wrestlers from both countries are optimistic this partnership can save wrestling's place in the Olympic Games. Wrestling will vie with seven other sports to try to gain entry in the 2020 Olympics.

"We have great confidence that we can work with the Iranian wrestling federation, the Iranian wrestlers and, really, the Iranian people to show the world that, no matter what's happening politically, we have the same goal and the same belief and passion about the sport of wrestling," said Hull.

The U.S. and Iran appear to be grappling together to save the sport they love.

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