Jordan Burroughs’ path to Rio Olympics missing closest U.S. rivals

Jordan Burroughs
AP
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It’s a situation USA Wrestling believes is unprecedented heading into an Olympic trials, and it involves Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs.

Burroughs, the reigning World freestyle champion at 74kg, is a heavy favorite to book a place on the Rio Olympic team in the trials finals in Iowa City on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

It would be shocking for Burroughs to lose, not only because he’s 122-2, but also because he won’t have to face either the second- or third-ranked U.S. 74kg grapplers from last year.

“It’s almost scary when things like this happen,” Burroughs said. “It’s yours to lose.”

After Burroughs won his third World title in September, both Kyle Dake and David Taylor announced they were moving out of Burroughs’ division and up to the 86kg class.

USA Wrestling couldn’t come up with another instance where Nos. 2 and 3 both left a division this deep into an Olympic cycle.

Only one wrestler per nation per division can compete in the Olympics, and Burroughs is the most dominant American in the sport in some time.

Dake and Taylor are two of the most accomplished U.S. wrestlers, but they’re winless against Burroughs.

Taylor, the 2012 and 2014 NCAA Wrestler of the Year who lost to Burroughs in the 2014 World Championships trials finals, moved up before Dake. He said he made the decision in June or July.

Did Taylor switch because he had never beaten Burroughs or Dake?

“That’s the question that I think everyone wants to know,” Taylor said in a FloWrestling interview in September. “It’s like, man, someone’s got to move up or down a weight class. Ultimately, that has nothing to do with it. But at the same time, I’ve got to do what’s best for me.”

The former Penn State standout pointed to cutting weight to get down to 74kg taking a toll on his body.

“That competitive side wants to stay at 74 to try and beat those guys, but after that World [Championships] Team Trials a year ago, I was pretty banged up,” Taylor said. “A lot of it I attribute to a lot of weight cutting, trying to manage my weight.”

Dake, the only man to win four NCAA titles in four different weight classes or without a redshirt year (2010-13), announced days after Taylor that he, too, was moving up to 86kg.

“Jordan had just won the World Championships again,” Dake said of the timing of his decision in an interview while cheering his school, Cornell, at the NCAA Championships in New York in March. “He gets to sit out until the [Olympic trials] finals. That’s a big advantage. I’ve done really well against 86-kilo guys in the past. I felt like I’d be fine wrestling with them moving forward.”

Dake, who lost to Burroughs in the World Championships trials finals in 2013 and 2015, said that if Burroughs did not have a bye into the Olympic trials finals, he might have stayed in the 74kg division.

MORE: John Smith joins NBC broadcast team for trials, Olympics

Reigning World Championships medalists earn byes into trials finals. At the 2015 Worlds, the American in the 86kg division, Jake Herbert, lost in the round of 32, meaning no bye and an even playing field for everyone in that class on Sunday.

With the bye, Burroughs can rest in Iowa City until Sunday night, while the other wrestlers in his division battle through a bracket for the right to face him in a best-of-three finals.

Burroughs said he previously suggested a possible division switch to Taylor.

“But I never wanted for him to feel disrespected by me as a competitor,” said Burroughs, who cherishes rivalry, having read a few books on the Lakers-Celtics 1980s battles. “I want to be teammates with him.

“Obviously it’s difficult wrestling me, I’m one of the best wrestlers in the world, but I think that [Taylor] can be a World champion. I think he can be an Olympic champion. For a long time, I bet he was kind of embarrassed to make this move, because he didn’t want to be deemed a quitter, unsuccessful. All right, you moved up because you couldn’t beat Burroughs anymore. But really, I don’t think there’s any truth to that. You want to make a team. It’s simple. … You do what you’ve got to do to put yourself in the best position to win. So I respect him for his decision, and we’ll be best friends.”

Who’s left to challenge Burroughs?

The biggest threat left is probably Andrew Howe, who was Burroughs’ finals opponent at the 2012 trials, withdrawing with a knee injury after losing the first match four years ago.

“Everything comes full circle,” Burroughs said.

Perhaps the most intriguing man is Nick Marable, the only American to beat Burroughs in 124 senior matches since 2011. But that win, 4-4 on a tiebreaker, came two years ago, and Marable failed to make the 2015 World Championships team in another division.

Then there are three more two-time NCAA champions, including reigning NCAA Wrestler of the Year Alex DieringerIsaiah Martinez and Chris Perry, who could all enter the 74kg bracket.

Don’t expect the absences of Burroughs’ two biggest rivals to faze him Sunday.

“I saw a quote by Larry Bird, and he said, the best part about winning the championship was knowing that Magic Johnson was in the other locker room crying,” Burroughs said. “I’m a nice guy off the mat. When I step on the mat, it’s kill or be killed. And someone’s got to die, and I’m not dying.”

MORE: Olympic wrestling medalist tests positive for meldonium

Dmitriy Balandin, surprise Olympic swimming champion, retires

Dmitriy Balandin
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Dmitriy Balandin, the Kazakh swimmer who pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 Rio Olympics, retired at age 27.

“Today I would like to announce the end of my sports career,” Balandin said last week, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee. “I am still inspired. A new phase of my life begins. I have a lot of cool projects in my head that will soon be implemented.”

Balandin reportedly has coaching aspirations.

In 2016, he won the Olympic men’s 200m breaststroke out of lane eight as the last qualifier into the final. He edged American Josh Prenot by seven hundredths of a second and became Kazakhstan’s first Olympic swimming medalist.

He followed that up with 11th- and 17th-place finishes in the breaststrokes in Tokyo last year.

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U.S. women’s basketball team scores most points in FIBA World Cup history

Brionna Jones
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SYDNEY — A’ja Wilson and the U.S. put on quite a show, breaking the World Cup scoring mark in a record rout of South Korea.

Brionna Jones scored 24 points and Wilson added 20 to help the U.S. beat South Korea 145-69 on Monday. Shakira Austin’s layup with 9 seconds left helped the Americans break Brazil’s record of 143 points set in 1990.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team that can score the basketball like this,” Wilson said. “This is crazy, we put up 145 points. I think when you look at us and just knowing how talented we are, we just came together and we play together very, very well.”

The U.S. always has the most talented and deepest roster of any team in the World Cup with 12 WNBA stars on the roster. Still, the Americans had never come close to that sort of offensive output during it’s storied World Cup history. The previous team record was 119 points against Angola in 2014 and China in 2006. The scoring margin was also the biggest in U.S. history as well surpassing the 75-point win over Angola in 2014.

The win was also the 26th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals when they fell to Russia. The U.S. also won 26 in a row from 1994-2006. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-1986.

MORE: FIBA World Cup Results

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Breanna Stewart and Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon.

The U.S. (4-0), which has been playing stellar defense, was challenged by South Korea early. The teams were trading baskets for the first 8 minutes and it was tied at 21 before the Americans took control, scoring the final 11 points of the period.

Kahleah Copper came off the bench for the first time of the tournament and scored six points during that spurt. The Americans kept the streak going to start the second quarter, scoring nine of the first 11 points to put the game away.

By the time the game reached the half the U.S. was up 68-40, including scoring 44 points in the paint against the undersized Koreans.

“We were trying to get the ball inside,” Jones said. “We had an advantage there.”

The only suspense in the second half was how many records the Americans could break. They took down their own scoring mark on Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-pointer with 6:15 left in the game and kept putting up points with Austin’s layup capping off the contest.

Other records broken on Monday included the 62 field goals made, 36 assists and 94 points in the paint.

“Our size was a problem for them and I thought we shared the ball,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The Americans were well rested for the game after having their first day off of the tournament on Sunday.

Despite the rout, South Korea (1-3) can still advance to the quarterfinals with a win over Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

Leeseul Kang, who had 37 points in a win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, scored 10 points. Hyejin Park had 17 to lead the team.

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