Helen Maroulis, after becoming the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic wrestling title, had quite a year.
Then, she came back to competition. And dominated once again.
Maroulis won the world title at 58kg on Wednesday, mercy ruling all five of her opponents by a combined 53-0 margin and finishing the day with a torn thumb ligament.
“This was really special to me because I didn’t just go to Rio, do things right there and then come back and everything crashed and burned,” said Maroulis, who has won three straight global titles (the Olympics sandwiched by two worlds). “I heard people say everything in the book [after Rio]. Maybe I just had a good day or this or that. Three years in a row, I achieved the goal I set.”
The 25-year-old took seven months off after Rio — her coach told her that she might lose worlds because of it — but looked and felt reinvigorated on Wednesday.
“I was, like, counting down the days before Rio, like don’t focus on vacation after. I was so overwhelmed and tired,” Maroulis said. “But this, I’m like, man, I love this. I could do this all over again.”
She improved to a 78-1 record since taking bronze at the 2014 Worlds. Remember, Maroulis went 1-30 in her first year as a wrestler at age 7.
She’s the only American man or woman to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years, doing so in 2015 and again Wednesday.
Maroulis, after a hard struggle to cut weight to 53kg for Rio, moved up two divisions (11 pounds) this year. By the numbers, she faced an easier road to gold.
Saori Yoshida, the three-time Olympic champion whom Maroulis dethroned at 53kg in Rio, and 58kg superstar Kaori Icho, the only woman to win four Olympic golds in an individual event, both sat out this year for Japan.
The top 58kg seed at worlds, Olympic silver medalist Valeria Koblova of Russia, bowed out of her opening match with a left knee injury.
Maroulis plowed the remaining field, winning her first four matches Wednesday by mercy rule to reach the final by a 42-0 point margin.
Also Wednesday, 20-year-old Becka Leathers took bronze at 55kg in her senior worlds debut.
Worlds continue through the rest of this week. Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox goes Friday, and Olympic champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder close out the competition Saturday.
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