Adeline Gray
AP

Adeline Gray wipes away tears, then opponents to apex of women’s wrestling

Leave a comment

It’s the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, and Adeline Gray is wrestling in the finals for a spot on her first Olympic team.

Her sister Geneva is watching from about four rows up at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Geneva, a former high school wrestler, is also grappling.

“I was in tears,” Geneva said, “before the match even ended.”

That’s because, in the second match of a best-of-three series, it’s become clear that the 21-year-old Adeline Gray cannot overcome opponent Elena Pirozhkova.

The Russian-born Pirozhkova, who won the first match, leads 3-0 in the second with 18 seconds to go to clinch her place in London and leave Gray off the team.

The seconds tick out, a whistle blows five times in succession, flash bulbs flare and the Iowa audience applauds. The referee grabs Pirozhkova’s left arm and Gray’s right. That’s the moment Gray remembers the most.

“The end of wrestling matches you always get your hand raised [if you win],” Gray recalled recently. “I was just so used to getting my hand raised. At the Olympic trials, I knew I lost, like I understood it, but I went to raise my hand before the referee. He looked at me, and he was like, ‘No, I’m right. I was supposed to raise [Pirozhkova’s] hand.'”

The next hour is what Geneva remembers.

Adeline Gray has three sisters. Geneva was the only person with her immediately following the most stinging defeat of her life.

Adeline and Geneva, who is two years younger, both wrestled against the boys and sat shoulder to shoulder doing homework while at Chatfield High School in Littleton, Colo.

“We wrestled together, our whole lives together, basically,” said Geneva, who went on to play soccer in college and is now a sales associate for an industrial supplies company.

At the 2012 trials, after Adeline’s defeat, Adeline had Geneva come down from her seat, out of view of the competition mats, and join her in an area where she went through customary post-match drug testing.

Geneva looked at Adeline, whose expressions during the Pirozhkova match had been hidden by her unkempt brown hair, and was reminded of one other instance.

“In high school during the regional tournament she tore the ligaments in her thumb,” Geneva said. “This is coming from me, I believe she would’ve been a state [championships] placer that year. It all ended with just one little injury. I was there with her through that, but that was not on this level.”

Adeline wept for about 30 minutes after losing to Pirozhkova.

“[Geneva] just held me and let me cry and break down,” Adeline said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It was a dream for a long time [to make the Olympic team], and it was really sad that I didn’t get that opportunity to do that. I thought I was going to win that day, and to have to change that mentality was tough.”

It’s not over, Geneva told her. You’re 21. You’re still young. Adeline finished drug testing and moved toward what’s called a mixed zone — where athletes go for post-competition interviews.

Adeline attempted to compose herself and turned to her younger sister. Do I look OK, she asked.

“I wiped her face and her hair,” Geneva said. “My sister blew me away at that moment. Her persona. I was so impressed. … It blew me away how stoic she managed to be.”

Gray said she’s grown tangibly since, earning medals at every World Championships and becoming arguably the biggest favorite for Olympic gold on the U.S. wrestling team — among men and women.

On Thursday, she wrestles for her second straight World Championships gold in the 75kg division.

She will try to join Kristie Davis, the most decorated U.S. women’s wrestler of all time, as the only American women to earn medals at five straight World Championships.

Even bigger, an American woman has never won an Olympic wrestling gold medal. If Gray prevails in Las Vegas — and she enters competition ranked No. 1 in the world — she will go into 2016 favored to become the first American woman to win an Olympic title.

The headliner of this week’s meet, the first World Wrestling Championships held in the U.S. since 2003, is Jordan Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic champion and two-time World champion.

Burroughs, who once won 105 straight matches but lost at last year’s Worlds, has his own shoe and 127,000 Twitter followers. He called Gray (3,508 followers) the gold standard of U.S. women’s wrestling and compared her last four years to his accomplishments over the same span.

“She’s not the best technically, but she’s the toughest, no doubt the toughest woman wrestler I’ve ever seen,” Burroughs said.

The toughness was tested in 2012. Not only with that defeat in Iowa City, but also in the six months before trials and, three months after the trials, during the Olympics.

Gray was the 2011 World bronze medalist at 67kg, not an Olympic weight class, but said by late that fall she was at almost 170 pounds before deciding to drop down to 63kg (138 pounds) for the April 2012 trials. It took her six months to lose the 30 pounds, she said, with the help of an app that logged every piece of food that went into her mouth.

She said she weighed in at trials at 62.8 kilograms and wrestled the next day at 70.

“To put on almost 16 pounds overnight just shows you how absorbent my body was, not liking to be at that lower weight class,” Gray said.

She wrestled at trials after injuries kept her off the mat for two months, returning to it two days before leaving for Iowa City and then needing to beat five opponents in one day to become an Olympian. She nearly pulled it off, taking down four before being foiled by Pirozhkova, the 2010 World silver medalist in the weight class that Gray was new to.

“I remember the day after feeling like I got hit by a truck and then a train,” Gray said. “I think most of it was the emotional side.”

Three months later, Gray was in London for the Olympics, even though she didn’t make the team. U.S. Olympic wrestlers need training partners at the Games, and runners-up at trials are often brought over. Plus, they are technically alternates in case of injuries.

So Gray flew to London and even saw the Opening Ceremony.

“In a bar,” she said. “It was a dark pub. That wasn’t a fun moment.”

Gray said she was also dumped around that time and a family member was hospitalized back home.

“There were still really great moments that happened at the Olympics, even though I felt like I spent the whole time with my head down and being sad about my own pity party,” she said.

Tickets to see her friends compete weren’t free or even cheap. But she did witness Burroughs win his gold medal.

“I saw that moment of relief on his face,” she said.

Burroughs has never been a traveling alternate for an Olympics or World Championships team, but he identified with what Gray went through.

“Once you feel the embarrassment that she felt in London, that motivates you,” Burroughs said.

Gray moved back up to 67kg for the 2012 World Championships, two months after the Olympics, and won gold. Coaches urged her to continue to add weight, and by 2014 she was World champion at 75kg, the heavyweight division.

“I never thought that I was going to struggle finishing my dinners and then having a protein shake,” said Gray, who knows the exact number of countries she’s visited as an international athlete (22, thanks to a pinboard gift from her family) and has posters of soccer player Alex Morgan and 2004 Olympic champion wrestler Cael Sanderson inside her dorm room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. “It’s all I wished for was extra food when I was cutting weight [in 2012].”

At Worlds, Gray won’t have to face the No. 2-ranked woman in her division. Canada’s Erica Wiebe was beaten at her trials. Instead, Gray sees her biggest threats coming from China and Japan.

“They are a little bit quick on the outside, like a little skippy dog,” Gray, who is listed at 5 feet, 10 inches, said of Japanese wrestlers. “I’m trying to catch them. I’m like, get back here!”

Gray wore a black shirt with the words, “Gray to Gold,” for an interview while training at Columbia University earlier this summer. The motto, not just for Vegas but for Rio and perhaps beyond, was the idea of Burroughs, whose charisma shines through his Twitter handle, @alliseeisgold.

“I had my sisters on a mission to come up with a good quote for a T-shirt, and they were awful,” joked Gray, who is sponsored by Asics, the apparel company that also reps Burroughs. “My mom’s a marketing major and couldn’t come up with a good one.”

Gray mentioned the dilemma to Burroughs while with the U.S. team overseas a year and a half ago.

“Gray to Gold would look great on a shirt,” he said.

“It came out of his mouth, and it was so beautiful,” Gray said. “I was sitting there and wanted to hit him. I owe him a T-shirt.”

Gray wouldn’t mind trading a shirt for a pair of wrestling shoes. Burroughs has his own line of competition footwear — little boys have been known to at-mention @alliseeisgold after receiving a pair for birthday or Christmas gifts.

In the 45-minute interview at Columbia, Gray spoke most at length about how she would like to be a role model for female wrestlers.

“There’s never been a female [wrestling] shoe,” she said. “Two things I’d love to see. A female’s name on a wrestling shoe, and eventually a female shoe. I wear boys sizes.”

There’s also been chatter since 2012 of a battle of the sexes match between Gray and Burroughs. Gray once wrestled another man, Worlds veteran Reece Humphrey, on a beach in Cuba. Humphrey was allowed to use one arm, and Gray said she had a 40-pound weight advantage.

Gray and Burroughs are closer in weight class.

“Every time Jordan takes me down, I get 30 seconds on top,” Gray said she’s proposed.

“It’s all just small talk,” Burroughs said in a phone interview last week. “Mostly me being facetious. She’s kind of entertained it, because she’s a competitor.”

Gray looks back on 2012 and, given her success since, wonders if she made the wrong decision in dropping down a weight class for trials rather than moving up.

“I’ve played it over 100 times in my head,” she said, but not concretely regretting the choice.

She was by contrast resolute that day in Iowa City, when she moved into the mixed zone for interviews following her loss at the Olympic trials.

She spoke as if the feeling of defeat, along with the tears, had already been wiped away.

‘This just showed me that with a little more discipline, I will make the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,” Gray said then, according to the Denver Post. “It’s not going to be a question about whether I step onto that team. It’s going to be more a question whether I win one gold medal and keep wrestling, or win my gold medal and then retire.”

MORE WRESTLING: Jordan Burroughs leads U.S. roster for World Championships

Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

Getty Images
2 Comments

Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Roger Federer minted on Swiss coin

Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

AP
4 Comments

Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping