Aaron Pico, Jordan Burroughs

Jordan Burroughs, Aaron Pico at freestyle wrestling World Cup marks gathering of generations

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Jordan Burroughs raised his eyebrows, then leered and grinned as sweat dribbled down his tattooed chest, minutes after capturing his fourth straight U.S. Open freestyle wrestling title last April 19.

The Olympic gold medalist paused. He delivered the kicker line of a 70-word answer to a question about his growing legend.

“I’m just hoping to get a couple more titles before Aaron Pico gets on the scene,” Burroughs said in Las Vegas. The two interviewers chuckled.

One year later, Burroughs, the 26-year-old face of USA Wrestling, and Pico, the 18-year-old who aims to succeed Burroughs in that role, are together on a U.S. team for the first time at this weekend’s freestyle World Cup at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra, Sunday, 9 p.m. ET).

Burroughs occupies the 74-kilogram weight class. Pico is one Olympic division lighter at 65 kilograms. They aren’t in direct competition for a 2016 Olympic berth, but they know each other well from word of mouth and, more recently, training together.

“I’ve seen very few kids his age that can do the things he does as well as he does,” Burroughs said in a phone interview Thursday. “He’s perfected the basics. As he continues to gain more offense, gain more defense, he’s going to be very, very hard to beat.”

Burroughs takes a 98-2 senior international record into the World Cup and will very likely reach triple-digit victories this weekend.

Pico is 17-3, plus owns a 2014 World Junior Championships silver medal. He’s nicknamed “cheeks,” started wrestling at age 4 and signed a Bellator MMA contract following his one and only (and undefeated) high school wrestling season.

Pico is avoiding the mixed martial arts cage until after the Rio 2016 Olympics, should he make it there. His goal is to become the first U.S. teen to win an Olympic wrestling gold medal, and then dominate MMA (and possibly boxing, too, as he was a junior Golden Gloves champion).

Burroughs will be The Star at The Forum, a favorite in all of his matches given Russian rival Denis Tsargush is not in the field.

Pico, from nearby Whittier and the descendant of the last Mexican Governor of California, estimated he will have at least 25 friends and family members in the crowd. But Pico does not expect to compete because he is the second-ranked American in his division, behind Brent Metcalf. Coaches can choose either Pico or Metcalf to wrestle each match. Last year, Metcalf was chosen for every match in the 65-kilogram division, and won them all.

So, Burroughs and Pico are in vastly different places 16 months before the Rio Olympics. But this they share — they are both known criers.

Burroughs bawled after losses as a child, hiding under the bleachers heartbroken as if the family dog had just died.

Pico shed tears around dawn on Feb. 12, 2013, when he woke at 4:30 for his usual morning workout and was lifting when his father informed him that the International Olympic Committee moved to cut wrestling from the Olympic program. Even though wrestling’s axing would have started with the 2020 Olympics, not 2016, Pico was ready to shift focus.

“I better get myself to the boxing club if that’s the case, start boxing again and try to make the Olympic team for boxing,” Pico said, before reconsidering as the save wrestling movement gathered steam.

The IOC voted seven months later to keep wrestling in the Olympics, three weeks before Pico’s 17th birthday. So Pico continued training. He notched a statement victory on Nov. 28, over 2013 World champion David Safaryan of Armenia in Nice, France.

Last Friday, Pico measured himself against Metcalf in what may have been a preview of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. Metcalf and Pico are the only Americans in the United World Wrestling rankings of the top 20 men in the world in the 65-kilogram division. Metcalf is No. 8; Pico is No. 17.

Metcalf won a heated match 4-1, during which Pico mouthed words to his opponent. Right after, Metcalf grabbed a microphone and addressed Pico and the crowd (video at 11-minute mark).

“You want me to wrestle?” Metcalf said. “Let’s do the shot count. You for real? Don’t run your mouth!”

One minute later, a more calm Metcalf said into the microphone that he respected Pico.

After the competition, Metcalf recapped what happened to the Des Moines Register:

“[Pico] says, ‘Hey, why don’t you wrestle me next time?'” Metcalf said. “Is that a real question? Was I blocking and defending the whole match? I don’t think so. I think I was pretty active and trying to get to my offense against a guy who’s very capable. … I don’t know what you want. Do you want me to fall over for you? I’m not going to.”

On Thursday, Pico said he didn’t really remember what he said to Metcalf and apologized for setting a bad example for younger wrestlers.

“When you wrestle in the heat of the moment, you say some things that you shouldn’t, but it is what it is,” said Pico, who is 10 years younger than Metcalf. “It was a great match for me. Even though I lost, I felt him in a live match. I know what he’s got. … Once I get my offense going, it’s going to be good for me. I know it’s going to be hard for him to stop me.

“Once I wrestle him again, it’s going to be a different story. I’m not stopping until I beat him. I know I will. My time will come.”

They could face off at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas in May and the World Championships Team Trials in Madison, Wis., in June.

Outgoing Ohio State senior Logan Stieber could complicate matters in that division. In March, he became the fourth NCAA wrestler to win four national championships and hopes to make the 2016 Olympic team, too.

Pico said he has not decided if he will continue wrestling if he does not make the 2016 Olympic team. He said he may continue to train for wrestling while embarking on that MMA career.

“I’m not saying I’m the best right now, but in a year and a half I think I’m going to be up there,” Pico said.

Burroughs can relate to a rivalry. He and the Russian Tsargush combined to win every Olympic and World Championships 74-kilogram gold medal dating to 2009.

Burroughs beat Tsargush in the 2012 Olympic semifinals. Tsargush returned the favor at the 2014 World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, handing Burroughs (who was wrestling on a sprained MCL) his first senior international defeat to a foreign wrestler.

On his phone, Burroughs has this image (or something close to it) of Tsargush celebrating that victory saved for viewing whenever he wants a little motivation.

“It’s burned into my memory,” said Burroughs, who likened their head-to-head history to Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird in a 673-word blog post March 31.

Burroughs hopes for a rematch at the World Championships in Las Vegas in September. His son could be there to see it.

Beacon Burroughs, born last July and with an Instagram following of 5,000-plus, is in Los Angeles for the World Cup.

Burroughs — Jordan, not Beacon — said he has critics who see him as domesticated and washed up.

“My mindset has shifted to feeling like an underdog,” he said.

Burroughs believes Pico will have his day in the spotlight, but not soon. Asked if he thinks Pico will make the 2016 Olympic team, Burroughs hesitated.

“I don’t know. … Personally, no,” Burroughs said. “It’s really hard to do at 19, 20 years old [only one U.S. wrestler has made the Olympics as a teen since 1976, according to sports-reference]. He has the cards stacked against him.”

Video: Jordan Burroughs rips phone book in half

Honored to be a teammate with @alliseeisgold here at #WorldCupLA

A post shared by Aaron Pico (@aaronpicousa) on

USA Gymnastics closes Karolyi Ranch

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USA Gymnastics said it will no longer use the Karolyi Ranch in Texas as its training center, where athletes said Larry Nassar sexually abused gymnasts.

“USA Gymnastics has terminated its agreement with the Karolyi Ranch in Huntsville, Texas,” USA Gymnastics CEO and president Kerry Perry said in a press release Thursday. “It will no longer serve as the USA Gymnastics National Team Training Center.

“It has been my intent to terminate this agreement since I began as president and CEO in December. Our most important priority is our athletes, and their training environment must reflect this. We are committed to a culture that empowers and supports our athletes.

“We have cancelled next week’s training camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team. We are exploring alternative sites to host training activities and camps until a permanent location is determined. We thank all those in the gymnastics community assisting in these efforts.”

MORE: Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

World champions Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols said that Nassar sexually abused gymnasts at the ranch.

“When I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp at the Karolyi Ranch,” Nichols wrote in a victim impact statement read at one of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday and published last week. “This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.

“He did this ‘treatment’ on me, on numerous occasions.”

Raisman, a three-time Olympic champion, urged USA Gymnastics to close the ranch in a Tuesday interview on ESPN.

“I hope USA Gymnastics listens because they haven’t listened to us so far,” she said. “I hope they listen, and I hope they don’t make any of the girls go back to the ranch. No one should have to go back there after, you know, so many of us were abused there.”

Simone Biles did not specifically name the Karolyi Ranch in her Monday statement, but Raisman said Tuesday that Biles was referring to that site.

“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work towards my dream of competing at Tokyo 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” was posted on Biles’ social media.

Jamie Dantzscher, a 2000 Olympian, said Nassar was alone with her in her bed at the ranch.

“There was no one else sent with him,” she said on CBS last year. “The treatment was in the bed, in my bed that I slept on at the ranch.”

USA Gymnastics said in July 2016 that it reached an agreement with former national team coordinators Bela and Martha Karolyi to purchase the training facility the couple owned.

The national governing body backed out of the purchase in May “for a variety of reasons” but continued under its current lease agreement while exploring alternative locations for camps. It held national team camps there in September and November.

The Karolyis established the ranch in 1983 after defecting from Romania. It had been a national team training center since 2001.

Larry Nassar calls hearing ‘media circus’ as Olympic gymnasts testify

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A statement from McKayla Maroney read Thursday repeated that sexual assault by Larry Nassar “left scars” in her mind that may never fade as a judge heard a third day of testimony from victims.

Nassar could be sentenced Friday in Lansing. Since Tuesday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina has been listening to dozens of young women who were molested after seeking his help for injuries.

Aquilina started the hearing Thursday by saying Nassar had written a letter fearing that his mental health wasn’t strong enough to sit and listen to a parade of victims. He called the hearing “a media circus.”

The judge dismissed it as “mumbo jumbo.”

“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you’ve had at their expense, ruining their lives,” Aquilina said.

Nassar, 54, faces a minimum sentence of 25 to 40 years in prison for molesting girls as a doctor for Michigan State University and at his home.

He also was a team doctor at USA Gymnastics for nearly two decades. He’s already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography crimes.

“Dr. Nassar was not a doctor,” Maroney said in a statement read by a prosecutor (Maroney’s statement was previously posted in the fall). “He left scars on my psyche that may never go away.”

USA Gymnastics in 2016 reached a financial settlement with Maroney that barred her from making disparaging remarks. But the organization this week said it would not seek any money for her “brave statements.”

A 2000 Olympian, Jamie Dantzscher, looked at Nassar and said, “How dare you ask any of us for forgiveness.”

“Your days of manipulation are over,” she said. “We have a voice. We have the power now.”

Nassar wasn’t the only target. Victims also criticized Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon attended part of the session Wednesday. The school is being sued by dozens of women, who say campus officials wrote off complaints about the popular doctor.

“Guess what? You’re a coward, too,” current student and former gymnast Lindsey Lemke said Thursday, referring to Simon.

The judge has been praising each speaker and criticizing Nassar.

It’s “about their control over other human beings and feeling like God and they can do anything,” Aquilina said of sex offenders.

On Jan. 31, Nassar will get another sentence for sexual assaults at a Lansing-area gymnastics club in a different county.