J’den Cox, Kyle Dake earn first wrestling world titles

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J’den Cox had enough of bronze. Kyle Dake, an NCAA wrestling legend, considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year.

Both Cox and Dake broke through for their first wrestling world titles in Budapest on Monday, giving the U.S. three male world champions in one year for the first time since 1995.

Cox, bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics and 2017 Worlds, dumped Belarusian Ivan Yankouski 4-1 in the 92kg final. A half-hour earlier, Dake completed an unscored upon run through the 79kg division, beating Olympic bronze medalist Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan 2-0.

Both Cox and Dake won their titles at non-Olympic weights. It’s likely that Cox drops back down to 86kg, where David Taylor just won the world title, for the Tokyo 2020 trials. Dake’s road might be even tougher if he goes down to 74kg, land of five-time Olympic and world champion Jordan Burroughs.

Since Rio, Cox underwent surgery for the torn meniscus that he competed on at the Olympics, won his third NCAA title, mulled and ruled out playing college football for Missouri, moved up from 86kg to 92kg, relocated to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and shaved his head.

“I expected this outcome,” Cox said. “I did the work.”

Dake, 27, reached the pinnacle of international wrestling five years after completing an unrivaled NCAA career at Cornell. Dake, nicknamed “Kid Dynamite,” is the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt.

From 2013-17, Dake was runner-up at Olympic or world championships trials four times. Three times, he ran into Burroughs in world trials finals. He considered retiring after losing in the 2016 Olympic Trials 86kg final to Cox.

Dake made his first world team this year, helped some by the tournament moving from eight weight classes to 10. He didn’t have to face Burroughs or Cox at trials.

“Motivating, having guys like that who are just half a step, quarter of a step, eighth of a step ahead of you, that you need to go catch puts a fire under your belly,” Dake said. “I challenge [Olympic and world 97kg champion] Kyle Snyder [in practice]. I challenge J’den. I challenge those guys. I go down [in weight]. I’ll wrestle Jordan.”

And Dake proved he belonged in Budapest as the first U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years. Helen Maroulis, who wrestles later this week, also notched the feat at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds.

Worlds continue Tuesday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with the most anticipated match of the tournament — Snyder versus Russian Olympic champ Abdulrashid Sadulaev in the 97kg final, a rematch of the 2017 final dubbed the “Match of the Century” won by Snyder.

Also Monday, 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman dropped his 57kg bronze-medal match 5-4 to Süleyman Atlı of Turkey.

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MORE: Wrestling worlds TV schedule

Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

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Nathan Chen called into his media teleconference from the rink last week, still on his winter break between his freshman semesters at Yale University.

The signal wasn’t great inside, he said, and it momentarily spared him from answering a direct question about his GPA his first semester as a college student.

Back on the call, the reigning world champion admitted, “I’m not gonna say the exact number, but there are some A’s and B’s sprinkled in.

“Really no complaints. I got pretty good grades. I’m pretty happy with that.”

His skating report card from the fall reads equally as impressively. Chen won the title at Skate America to open the season, followed by a come-from-behind win at Grand Prix France. To cap it all off, he won a second-consecutive Grand Prix Final title.

All this while the 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist is across the country from his longtime coach Rafael Arutunian and trying out telecoaching for the first time.

Back in California between semesters, Chen said Raf has asked him to stay full-time.

“Since the past two weeks that I’ve been here, literally every day he’s been like, ‘you gotta come back! You gotta come back! There’s so much that you can learn at the rink. I respect what your decision is at Yale but it’s been so great having you here.’ He really wishes that I could stay here full time but at the same time, I already started this path and I don’t really want to pull out just yet.”

As for his second semester in college, Chen is signed up for about 10 courses and will have about two weeks at the beginning of term to add and drop courses. He’ll be in classes – he’s not exactly sure which, though – for a week before attempting to notch his third-straight U.S. national title.

“I selected a bunch of courses, probably selected like 10 different courses. I’ll go in and the first week I will see which courses I like, which courses I don’t like.”

Competing during the spring semester might be harder. February’s Four Continents Championships, this year to be held in Anaheim, Calif., aren’t during a scheduled academic break. Conveniently, world championships are scheduled during Yale’s spring break.

“I’m not sure yet [if he’ll compete there if named to the team],” he said. “That’s still TBD. I would love to since it’s in California, and it’s a great event. We’ll see.”

But for now, competing well in Detroit is the next step.

“I have to skate as well as I can and regardless of the external things,” he said when asked if coming in as the reigning world champion or as the favorite affects him. “Just focus on all the things that I can do right now in training to make sure that I do the best I can in competition.”

The men’s short program is Jan. 26 followed by the free skate on Jan. 27.

MORE: Adam Rippon’s new year’s resolutions

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins Kronplatz giant slalom for her 10th win of the season

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Mikaela Shiffrin won the women’s giant slalom at the World Cup stop in Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday, marking her 10th victory of the 2018-19 season and 53rd World Cup win of her career. Shiffrin, the 2018 Olympic giant slalom gold medalist, led France’s Tessa Worley by 1.39 seconds after the first run. Although Worley outpaced Shiffrin in the second run, Shiffrin’s massive first-run margin allowed her to win the two-run event by 1.21 seconds. Italy’s Marta Bassino placed third. Full results are here. 

Shiffrin entered Kronplatz ranked third in the World Cup giant slalom standings, but moves into first place with the win. The 23-year-old also leads the overall World Cup leader board, as well as the slalom and super-G discipline standings. Shiffrin has won seven World Cup globes in her career (two overall, five slalom).

Shiffrin has already broken multiple records this season, including becoming the youngest skier to win 50 World Cup races, and there are still more records within striking distance. Shiffrin could break the record for most World Cup wins in a single seasons; the current record (14) was set by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider in 1988-89.

The next stop for the women’s World Cup is this weekend in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, with two downhills scheduled for Friday and Saturday, and a super-G slated for Sunday. Shiffrin plans to skip the downhills, but enter the super-G. Lindsey Vonn, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury, is expected to make her return to competition in Friday’s downhill.