Jordan Burroughs: I’m on wrestling’s Mount Rushmore after third World Championship

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Jordan Burroughs won his third World Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas on Saturday, capping the most successful U.S. performance at a World Championships since 2006 (total medals) or 1995 (gold medals).

Burroughs, who in 2014 lost at an Olympics or Worlds for the first time, while grappling with an MCL sprain, mercy ruled Mongolian Pürevjavyn Önörbat 10-0 in the 74kg freestyle final to reclaim his World title at the Orleans Arena on Saturday.

Burroughs, 27 and wearing golden shoes, celebrated by slapping the mat, smiling and raising his right index finger in the air before the referee raised his arm.

“I made it back,” Burroughs repeated while wearing an American flag, adding later to reporters, “It’s been a hard year … a lot of doubt … a lot of unknowns, uncharted waters.”

Burroughs became the third U.S. men’s wrestler to win at least four combined Olympic and World Championships, joining Bruce Baumgartner and John Smith. Burroughs won the 2011 and 2013 World titles and the 2012 Olympics.

“I’m like almost to the peak of my wrestling ability,” Burroughs told media in Las Vegas before the match Saturday, “and then it’s going to be on the decline.”

Next year, Burroughs can join Baumgartner, Smith and George Mehnert as the only Americans to win multiple Olympic wrestling titles.

“When I think of the Mount Rushmore of wrestling, I definitely can say I’m on it now,” Burroughs said.

Burroughs has said — and repeated Saturday — that his eye is on Smith’s American record of six combined Olympic and World titles.

“I might not be the best wrestler technically, but I think I have the biggest heart in the entire world,” said Burroughs, adding that he needed four stitches above his left eye after his second of six matches Saturday.

Overall, the U.S. won four gold medals at the World Championships, its most in one year at a Worlds or an Olympics since 1995. It earned seven total medals this week, its highest total since 2006.

Burroughs came off what he called the hardest year of his life in 2014.

His 105-match winning streak dating to 2009 was snapped in February of last year, and though he welcomed baby boy Beacon that July, Burroughs sprained an MCL wrestling at Worlds in Uzbekistan and was later defeated by Russian rival Denis Tsargush. Burroughs settled for a bronze medal and saved a photo on his smart phone of Tsargush beating him.

“I’ve been a little bit beaten up by life,” Burroughs said. “A lot of people forgot about what I was capable of.”

Burroughs also added coaching duties to his plate, as an assistant at Nebraska last fall.

“It was really trying in terms of me staying focused to be the best wrestler in the world, me being the best husband in the world as well as the best father,” Burroughs said. “There were a lot of nights where I had absolutely no energy to be either of the three.”

Burroughs, who has a tattoo of a lighthouse beaming with a light in honor of his son’s name, slept in a different room in his Vegas hotel than his wife and Beacon on Friday night.

“These are some of the sacrifices I’ve got to make,” Burroughs said. “I’m like, babe, I love you, but I’m going downstairs to my room. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

It was a wise decision. Beacon was up at 4:30 a.m., Burroughs said.

Burroughs has compared his rivalry with Tsargush to that of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Tsargush, who also won the 2009 and 2010 World titles before Burroughs began wrestling internationally, was not on the Russian team at Worlds this year though.

Burroughs said it was a little bit anticlimactic to regain his World title without getting a shot at Tsargush.

“You want to beat the guy that’s beaten you,” he said before the final Saturday. “I thought about it a lot this year. It really fueled me and gave me hunger to be better and to be prepared for this event.”

Perhaps the most exciting point of the entire week in Las Vegas came during Burroughs’ semifinal against a different Russian earlier Saturday. Russian fans began chanting, and home fans silenced them with an ear-splitting U-S-A chant (at the 6:15 mark here).

MORE WRESTLING: Video: Jordan Burroughs rips phone book in half

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

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The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

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Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

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Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

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