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

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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.

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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.”

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USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

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The U.S. Olympic Committee fired chief of sport performance Alan Ashley in the wake of an independent report released Monday that said neither he nor former CEO Scott Blackmun elevated concerns about the Larry Nassar sexual abuse allegations when they were first reported to them.

The 233-page independent report detailed an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the Nassar allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny.

Blackmun resigned in February because of health concerns.

The report says the USOC took no action between first hearing of the allegations in July 2015 and September 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published an account of Nassar’s sex abuse. The report concludes that lack of action allowed Nassar to abuse dozens more girls over the 14 months of silence.

Nassar is serving decades in prison on charges of child pornography and for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment; many of his accusers testified in heart-wrenching detail at his sentencing hearing.

Though Ashley was the only one to get fired in the immediate aftermath of its release, the report paints a harsh picture of leadership of the entire U.S. Olympic movement, from the offices of the USOC to what it portrays as an essentially rogue, unchecked operation at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas — the training center run by Bela and Martha Karolyi where some of the abuse occurred.

The report concludes that one of Penny’s key objectives was to keep the allegations under wraps, to avoid “sending shockwaves through the community,” as he said in a conversation with an FBI agent.

Meanwhile, Penny is portrayed as repeatedly trying to get the FBI to investigate Nassar, but the report concludes “the investigation appears to have languished … for over seven months” in the FBI’s Detroit office. USAG took the allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, but not until the newspaper report came out did that office take action.

The report says Penny notified Blackmun and Ashley that Nassar had retired in September 2015, but that both leaders had deleted the email, which referenced Nassar by name.

The report details the USOC’s relationships with the sports organizations it oversees as too deferential and not involved enough in policymaking to ensure athlete safety.

“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs,” the report states.

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MORE: Olympic medalist no longer on USA Gymnastics suspended list

U.S. figure skating rankings going into national championships

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A discipline-by-discipline look at U.S. figure skaters’ best season scores with no more top-level events until the U.S. Championships from Jan. 24-27 in Detroit …

Men
1. Nathan Chen — 282.42
2. Chen — 280.57
3. Chen — 271.58
4. Jason Brown — 263.42
5. Brown — 256.33
6. Brown — 234.97
7. Vincent Zhou — 234.25
8. Brown — 233.23
9. Zhou — 225.75
10. Camden Pulkinen — 223.95

Chen is on his way to a third straight national title, while Brown has been a pleasant surprise this fall after changing coaches in the offseason. The Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion even beat Chen in one program on the Grand Prix Series. Zhou, after placing sixth in PyeongChang, has struggled with under-rotations on jumps but is still in the driver’s seat for one of three world championships spots.

Women
1. Bradie Tennell — 206.41
2. Tennell — 202.41
3. Ting Cui — 199.79
4. Mariah Bell — 198.96
5. Tennell — 197.78
6. Bell — 196.60
7. Tennell — 192.89
8. Bell — 190.25
9. Bell — 188.97
10. Ashley Lin — 181.21

Two world team spots for the women. Tennell and Bell are the top returning veterans this season, but remember that 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen has yet to compete with a foot injury. Then there are Ting, 16, and Alysa Liu, a 13-year-old who isn’t age eligible for junior or senior worlds but can compete in the senior division at nationals. Liu landed triple Axels in both programs at sectionals last month, scoring 212.97 points (though domestic scores are often inflated and not comparable with international scores).

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 205. 35
2. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.82
3. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.76
4. Hubbell/Donohue — 197.42
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 184.63
6. Hawayek/Baker — 184.04
7. Hawayek/Baker — 181.47
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons — 180.95
9. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter — 180.57
10. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 180.22

The only active U.S. couple to beat Hubbell and Donohue in direct competition is Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but the two-time world medalists missed the entire fall season due to Chock’s ankle surgery. With Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani sitting out this season and maybe done competing altogether, Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites to repeat as national champions.

Three U.S. couples will go to worlds. Hawayek and Baker, after qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final, are primed to go back after placing 10th last season. The status of Chock and Bates will largely determine who rounds out the world team.

Pairs
1. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — 191.43

2. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim — 190.49
3. Knierim/Knierim — 182.84
4. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 181.56
5. Kayne/O’Shea — 177.69
6. Knierim/Knierim — 177.22
7. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 176.44
8. Cain/LeDuc — 175.06
9. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.91
10. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.78

Kayne and O’Shea, who likely would have made the Olympic team if the U.S. qualified more than one pair for PyeongChang, surprised by posting that 191 at the last event of the Grand Prix Series three weeks ago. The U.S. has just one pair at worlds this season for the first time since 1984 and last earned a medal in 2002. Kayne and O’Shea and the Knierims are ranked Nos. 9 and 10 in the world this season. Cain is recovering after falling head-first on the ice from a botched lift on Friday night.

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