By Karolos Grohmann
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Wrestling's quickfire return to the Olympic programme was music to the ears of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who personally lobbied for its return last year.
Putin was honoured on Wednesday by the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) for his role in helping get the sport back onto the 2022 Games programme after it was surprisingly taken off by the IOC early last year.
"It is hard to imagine the Olympic programme without wrestling and athletics," Putin said after a meeting with FILA boss Nenad Lalovic. "These sports are very significant for the Olympic movement as well as Mozart and Tchaikovsky for music".
An iconic Olympic sport, wrestling featured in the ancient Olympics as well as every modern Games apart from 1900 but surprisingly lost its spot last February as the IOC looked to freshen up its programme.
But the sport completed an unprecedented comeback by reclaiming its spot for 2020, beating bids from rivals squash and baseball/softball in an IOC vote.
As the latest Games entrant, wrestling is the only sport to be guaranteed a spot until the 2024 Olympics, with the 27 others up for review in 2017.
Burly Serb Lalovic replaced Raphael Martinetti as FILA president after the sport's initial exit and helped usher in sweeping changes in rules, administration and gender equality, making the sport more attractive to spectators and broadcasters.
"Wrestling is an amazing show, but it is necessary to promote it properly on television and use modern PR tools and techniques," said Putin. "Wrestling's position should be strengthened."
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Peter Rutherford)