Jordan Burroughs enters World Championships on new streak after tasting defeat

Jordan Burroughs
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Jordan Burroughs will wrestle for his fourth straight global title at the World Championships on Tuesday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where, for the first time at an Olympics or Worlds, he will compete with a blemish on his international record.

Burroughs, the Olympic champion in the 163-pound freestyle division, suffered the first senior international defeat of his decorated career in a strange setting on Feb. 15.

A 4-4 loss via tiebreaker to countryman Nick Marable (video here) snapped an American record 69-match winning streak dating to 2011. Add in NCAA competition, and Burroughs had won 105 straight. His last defeat came in December 2009, in overtime, after he tore two ligaments in his left knee early in the match.

“I think it was God’s way of telling me I’m not perfect,” Burroughs told the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News in the spring. “Basically, there will be times in your career that if you don’t wrestle hungry, there is someone out there that is more hungry or as hungry as you.”

Burroughs agreed that the tournament where he lost, his first meet since winning the 2013 World Championship four weeks after breaking an ankle, had the atmosphere of a high school JV basketball game.

It happened in the quarterfinals of the Yasar Dogu International in Istanbul.

“It really wasn’t much in terms of the amount of people at the tournament,” Burroughs said in a phone interview while training in Rome last week. “I think in the wrestling community, it wasn’t too significant. … The atmosphere, it wasn’t really significant cheering. Everyone was whispering, ‘Oh, Burroughs lost.’ Other than that, it was a normal day.”

Burroughs figured his phone would explode with messages and notifications after the defeat, so he put it away to focus on securing a place on the podium. For the first time, he stood in the bronze-medal place when all was said and done.

“A lot of people only found out through social media, and weeks later,” said Burroughs, who also passed 100,000 Twitter followers in February.

Many still hadn’t known when Burroughs returned to the U.S. When they’d praise his undefeated record, he had to correct them.

“Actually, I lost,” he has said. Burroughs acknowledged the obvious, that this will be mentioned in many stories about him leading to Rio 2016. “It’s something that I’m prepared to talk about for a long time.”

Lauren Burroughs was pregnant with their baby boy at the time. Don’t you dare hang your head or be upset over the defeat, she told her husband. You’ve accomplished a lot, and you still have a great career ahead of you.

“It will always remain with me,” said Burroughs, known to flip over Monopoly boards growing up and with such a memory that he has said only two journalists picked him to win Worlds in 2011, out of a panel of about 25. “I hope I never lose again.”

So Burroughs, 26, started a new win streak in the most competitive division in U.S. wrestling, where he must stave off the likes of David Taylor and Kyle Dake, who combined to win the last three NCAA Wrestler of the Year awards.

(Marable, who said he felt really bad immediately after his landmark victory for putting a “roadblock” on Burroughs’ legacy, has dropped down to the non-Olympic 154-pound division and made the U.S. team for the World Championships.)

“I think the streak I’m on at three is a little bit more important [than the previous one],” Burroughs said in an interview while attending the NCAA Championships.

Burroughs feels harder to beat now than ever before, even though he needed a late rally to edge Taylor 7-6 at the U.S. Open in April. Burroughs then defeated Taylor by a more comfortable margin at the World Team Trials in June.

“Unfortunately, in order for me to fulfill my dreams, I have to kill his,” Burroughs said after beating Taylor for the only World Championships team spot in their weight class.

Burroughs’ new streak is now at 19. His international record is 88-1. He had hoped to reach 100-0 before that loss. He’s still aiming at 100 victories, which will come some time next year.

“If you consider just one loss in the last four years detrimental to my legacy, then you’re crazy,” Burroughs said.

But the bigger carrot has always been Olympic and World Championships.

“I want to win as many as possible,” he said. “When I hang up my shoes, I want to be recognized as one of the greatest to ever do it.”

Burroughs, a student of his sport, has always put the two-time Olympic freestyle champion John Smith on a pedestal.

“No matter what I do, John Smith is always going to be the greatest, not only in a number of people’s eyes, but my eyes as well,” Burroughs said.

He moved closer Smith by joining a handful of U.S. wrestlers to win three global titles with his World Championship last year. He and Smith are the only ones to do so in back-to-back-to-back succession. Smith won all six Olympic and World titles from 1987 through 1992, so Burroughs has plenty of work ahead.

“It doesn’t get easier,” said Smith, now a coach at Oklahoma State. “As you get stronger and better, the field chasing you gets stronger and better. You’re setting the pace for everyone else.”

Burroughs recently read a Michael Jordan biography, which got him thinking about the way he wants to retire.

“There’s nothing sadder than seeing somebody who was once great at their respective sport compete past their prime,” Burroughs said. “When you think of guys like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, guys who were complete animals in their primes, get knocked out later in their careers, and got older and less powerful and less fearful. They became human. I want to leave with that level of invincibility.

“When [Jordan] finished with the Bulls in 1998, he was perfect, almost invincible. Then he came back with the Wizards and tarnished his legacy. I don’t want people to ever say that Burroughs can’t wrestle.

“In terms of emptying the tank, I don’t want to finish off my career by not making a team or a step off the top of the podium into retirement.”

Burroughs’ plan for after the World Championships? Spend time with his son. They’ve bonded a little so far since his birth in July. Burroughs has carried him in a Moby Wrap, performed 5 a.m. diaper changes and joked that he spilled mustard from a roast beef sandwich on the boy’s head.

“I want to get a tattoo of my baby,” he said, a lighthouse on his left calf with the boy’s name, Beacon, on it. “It’s symbolic of a beacon of light, hope.”

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA vs. Serbia Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China vs. France Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA vs. Canada Semifinals
5:30 a.m. Australia vs. China Semifinals
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final

U.S. into FIBA World Cup semifinals after trailing, triple-double watch

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SYDNEY — Alyssa Thomas and her United States teammates were tested for the first time in the World Cup by a physical Serbia team.

After a slow start, the Americans used a dominant run spanning the half to take control of the game and reach the semifinals again.

Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to help the U.S. beat Serbia 88-55 in the quarterfinals of the women’s World Cup on Thursday.

“I think you expect every team’s best punch in the first quarter,” Thomas said. “We just had to settle into the game and once we settled in, then we were really able to break away.”

Kelsey Plum scored 17 points and A’ja Wilson added 15 to lead the Americans (6-0) into the semifinals.

“They played super physical, more physical than we’ve seen the entire tournament,” Plum said. “Credit to them. I felt that early-on their pressure bothered us a little bit, but we were able to kind of get under control.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The Americans had run through pool play, winning by 46.2 points per game and hadn’t faced any kind of challenge. Serbia (3-2) wasn’t afraid though, going right at the U.S. The Serbians scored the first basket of the game — marking the first time the Americans trailed in the tournament.

It was back-and-forth for the first 17 minutes, with the U.S. failing to go on any major run. Then, with 2:59 left in the half and the U.S. up by five, Kahleah Copper drove to the basket and was fouled. She landed hard on her hip and had to be helped off the court by the U.S. training staff. Copper, who has been a sparkplug for the U.S. in her first tournament, didn’t return.

“It’s too early to tell,” Reeve said of the extent of Copper’s injury. “We’re getting her some imaging and we’ll have information later.”

Plum replaced Cooper and hit the two free throws, starting a 12-0 run to close the half as the Americans led 50-33 at the break. Thomas had 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in the opening 20 minutes.

The U.S. extended its run to 20 straight points in the third quarter before Serbia finally ended a nearly 8 1/2 minutes drought with a 3-pointer by Yvonne Anderson. That cut the deficit to 22 points. Serbia didn’t get much closer after that.

Anderson led Serbia with 14 points.

Betnijah Laney went down hard early in the fourth quarter on a put-back. She left the game and sat on the bench for the rest of the game.

“She took a hard fall,” Reeve said. “She was in the locker room afterwards and I think in her case it was a little more of it took the wind out of her.”

The victory was the 28th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

After going unbeaten in pool play again, the U.S. reached at least the semifinals for the 12th consecutive tournament, dating to 1975. That year completed a cycle in which the Americans lost 14 games combined in four tournaments. They’ve only lost five games since.

PICASSO IT WAS NOT

The U.S. had dominated the paint even without Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 60.8-24.4 in pool play. Serbia held a 20-16 advantage at the half and ended up outscoring the Americans 28-26 in the game by constantly having two or three players inside to clog up the middle.

“It’s one of those things you got to live with,” Wilson said. “Hopefully these next couple of games we can get back to owning the paint. Serbia did a great job of locking it down.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE WATCH

Thomas, who had a triple-double in each of the last two games in the WNBA Finals, fell just short again of getting the first one at the World Cup since Erika Dobrovicova in 1994 for the Slovak Republic against Spain. Assists and rebounds weren’t kept before 1994. Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the opener against Belgium.

TIP-INS

Jewell Loyd returned to the U.S. starting lineup a game after resting according to the team. She had eight points.

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