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.”

Rio 2016 Paralympics storylines with 2 years to go

Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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