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Jordan Burroughs keeps Rio defeat at a distance as he chases record

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NEW YORK — Jordan Burroughs says he has rewatched almost every one of his wrestling matches at least 15 times. That’s more than 150 senior matches in the last seven years, following a 148-match career at the University of Nebraska.

There is one event that he can’t bring himself to pull up in full — the Rio Olympics. Burroughs suffered two of his five career senior defeats in Brazil. Shockingly, tearfully, the London Olympic champ left his second Games without a medal.

“Disappointment, embarrassment, disgrace,” Burroughs told media on Aug. 19, 2016.

Nearly 700 days have passed. Burroughs has rebounded.

He wore his fourth world championships gold medal last August. He won the team World Cup title with the U.S. for the first time last month, the only senior tournament he had yet to claim.

Then last Thursday night, atop Pier 17 at South Street Seaport, Burroughs tacked on his first win over Cuban-born Italian Frank Chamizo at the annual Beat the Streets meet.

Chamizo took gold at the last two world championships before moving up to Burroughs’ 74kg division this year.

If Burroughs captures a fifth world title in October in Budapest, he will share the record he has for so long coveted — John Smith‘s six combined Olympic and world titles, most by an American.

He said none of what he has done since Rio, or what he can do the next two years, will make up for what happened in Brazil.

“It hurts me too much to look back at it, so I avoid it at all costs,” Burroughs said after a press conference at the New York Athletic Club overlooking Central Park last week. “Occasionally, I’ll come across an Instagram post where someone would do a highlight of the Olympics, and it will just be me getting my butt kicked, really. I’ll look at it. I’ll internalize it. I’ll think about it for the moment. I’ll let it sting. Then I’ll be driven from it.”

Burroughs distancing himself from defeat is not in character.

In 2014, he was beaten by his biggest rival, Russian Denis Tsargush, at the world championships. Burroughs saved on his phone an image of Tsargush celebrating on top of him as a constant reminder and said it motivated him to get out of bed on tired mornings.

Burroughs admitted last year’s world title was, at least somewhat, about proving to the world he could still be the best at age 29. The oldest men’s Olympic champion in freestyle between the last two Olympics was 26. Come Tokyo 2020, Burroughs will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling gold medalist.

Last year marked his most difficult path to gold since the match format was changed from best of three periods to a cumulative, two-period model in 2013. Burroughs gave up 17 points at worlds last August, more than twice as many as his 2013 and 2015 titles combined.

“I knew I was still the best wrestler in the world,” Burroughs said. “I knew I was the best wrestler in the world on August 19th, 2016. I just didn’t compete at my highest level. Whatever it was, whether it was the weight cut or mindset or lack of technical ability at that particular time, I felt like I was still the best wrestler. Things just didn’t come together for me.”

After worlds in Paris, Burroughs said he hoped the Tokyo Games would be his “final chapter.” Now he’s open to competing beyond 2020, but it won’t be his decision alone.

“Ask my wife,” Burroughs said. “I’ve got two little ones [son Beacon, 3, and daughter Ora, 1]. They’re still growing.

“I just want to win the gold in 2020. That’s the goal. My focus is 2018, 2019, 2020, re-evaluate after. … The only thing that can make up for [Rio] is win another gold in 2020.”

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Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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