Adeline Gray, Helen Maroulis win World Wrestling Championships

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Two U.S. women’s wrestlers won World Championships in a 100-minute span in Las Vegas on Thursday night, snowballing more hope that the nation can win its first Olympic women’s wrestling gold medal in Rio de Janeiro next year.

Adeline Gray captured her second straight World title in the 75kg division, third World title overall and fifth straight Worlds medal. Gray became the second U.S. woman to win back-to-back World titles and the second to earn medals five straight years.

Helen Maroulis earned her maiden title at 55kg, following silver in 2012 and bronze in 2014. She didn’t surrender a point in her four matches Thursday.

Gray and Maroulis share much more.

Gray, 24, began wrestling at age 6, when her father taught her basic moves that she still uses, more or less. Gray honed her skills grappling with boys in Colorado high school competition and overcame a defeat in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials final, followed by 30 minutes of crying with a younger sister, to rise to a No. 1 world ranking in her division before she prevailed Thursday.

“I didn’t think that anybody was really capable of beating me,” Gray, who scored 13 straight points to win her gold-medal match 13-2 over China’s Zhou Qian, said in a press conference, still wearing her blue singlet. “It would have been more me beating myself.”

Maroulis, 23, began wrestling at age 7 because her little brother needed a partner. She, too, lost in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials final, and, like, Gray, still went to the Olympics to help train the women who did make the Olympic team. Maroulis used the oh-so-close experience to catapult to No. 1 in the world rankings going into Vegas as well.

“She’s a rising star,” U.S. women’s wrestling coach Terry Steiner told media in Las Vegas. “Today, she rose.”

Gray and Maroulis both championed the progression of women’s wrestling after their titles Thursday.

“We have what, seven out of 50 states with state-sanctioned women’s [high school] wrestling programs,” said Maroulis, who says she prays before matches not to win but to wrestle without fear. “Clearly there’s a dire need for there to be more support and more opportunities for the girls.”

Before Thursday’s finals session, Steiner told a room full of USA Wrestling women’s alumni social attendees that Gray and Maroulis would both win later that night.

“We need heroes that young kids can look up to,” Steiner said after the duo proved him prophetic. “We have a couple leaders right now that can do that.”

Three U.S. women’s wrestlers have combined for five World titles in the last four years — Gray, Maroulis and Elena Pirozhkova.

In the same span, U.S. men’s wrestlers have won two World titles (both by Jordan Burroughs, and the men have the benefit of Greco-Roman weight classes, which woman do not have, plus more freestyle divisions). Burroughs wrestles at Worlds on Saturday.

However, U.S. men have won at least one Olympic wrestling gold medal at the last 10 Olympics, excluding the boycotted Moscow 1980 Games.

Women’s wrestling was added to the Olympic program in 2004, and Americans have won four medals in three Games, but zero golds.

In 2016, women’s wrestling will jump from four Olympic divisions to six with men’s freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman cutting from seven to six each.

The sport’s international federation made those changes as part of its bid to remain in the Olympics in 2013, and its president spoke of more gender balance in a Thursday press conference, but not until after the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Japan is the gold standard in women’s wrestling, a label Maroulis will have to fight in Rio de Janeiro, should she prevail at the Olympic trials in Iowa City in April.

That’s because all of Maroulis’ World medals have come at 55kg, which is not an Olympic weight class. She’ll have to descend to 53kg for 2016. That division is owned by Japan’s Saori Yoshida, who has won 15 straight global titles (Olympics/Worlds) dating to 2002 (though she, too, was 55kg, until 2014).

In Rio, Yoshida and teammate Kaori Icho could join Al Oerter (discus), Carl Lewis (long jump) and Denmark’s Paul Elvstroem (sailing) as the only Olympians to win gold medals in the same individual event at four straight Olympics, though Yoshida and Icho’s weight divisions have shifted slightly, and Elvstroem’s sailing events were a little different, too.

Michael Phelps could also join the club if he wins the 200m individual medley or 100m butterfly in Rio.

Gray and Maroulis both lapped the mats in Las Vegas wearing American flags following their victories, but does it compare to the Olympic stage, neither of which has experienced other than as spectators?

“Those are two separate things,” Gray said.

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Joey Mantia extends U.S. medal streak at speed skating worlds; Dutch dominance returns

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Joey Mantia ensured the host U.S. finished with a medal at the world single distances championships. Ireen WüstKjeld Nuis and Jorrit Bergsma ensured the Netherlands finished atop the medal standings.

Mantia joined Shani Davis as the only U.S. men to earn individual medals at three different editions of the championships, taking bronze in the 1500m on the last day of the speed skating meet at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Mantia won the mass start at the last two worlds in 2017 and 2019 (and finished fifth on Sunday, after the 1500m bronze).

Mantia clocked a personal best 1:42.16 in the fifth of 12 pairs of the 1500m. It held up until Nuis (1:41.66) and countryman Thomas Krol (1:41.73) in the last two pairs.

“Was starting to think that I’m so old that I can’t time trial anymore,” Mantia, a 34-year-old whose last 1500m personal best came in 2015, told media in Utah. “Maybe there’s a little bit of hope left.”

Mantia’s medal extended the U.S. streak of making the podium at every world championships this millennium — 16 straight. The single bronze is the smallest medal output since 2000.

Full results are here.

Wüst and Nuis gave the Dutch a sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m titles, two years after they did the same at the PyeongChang Olympics. Bergsma, an Olympic and world 10,000m champion, earned his first global medal of any color — gold — in the 16-lap mass start.

The Netherlands failed to earn any golds on the first two days of the four-day competition. The dominant Dutch, who topped the medal standings at every Olympics and worlds dating to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, entered Sunday trailing Russia.

But Wüst began the day by clocking 1:50.92 to win the 1500m by .21 over Russian Yevgenia Lalenkova. American medal hope Brittany Bowe, the 2015 World champion who took bronze last year, finished 14th a day after taking eighth in her world-record 1000m distance.

Nuis and Krol went one-two in the men’s 1500m to tie Russia’s medal total. Then Irene Schouten took bronze in the women’s mass start to put the Netherlands ahead for good, followed by Bergsma’s capper.

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MORE: Shani Davis retires, takes new role in speed skating

Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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MORE: World Single Distances Championships broadcast schedule