United World Wrestling

Helen Maroulis’ world championships streak ends after life-altering year

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Helen Maroulis woke Wednesday and felt the best she had in a long time. That was a victory.

Maroulis, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic female wrestling champion during a run as one of the planet’s dominant athletes, was pinned this morning in her 57kg first-round match at the world championships in Budapest.

Maroulis gave up a point at worlds for the first time since 2014. She won her previous 10 matches by a combined 97-0, bagging two world titles while going 78-1 overall among three different weights in three years. No other U.S. wrestler had gone unscored on at an Olympics or worlds the previous 30 years. Maroulis did it in 2015 and 2017.

Then, on Wednesday morning in the Hungarian capital, Azerbaijan’s Alyona Kolesnik forced Maroulis onto her back, ending the match in the second of two three-minute periods.

Maroulis was reflective in the media mixed zone. She alluded to her brain injury. Maroulis suffered a concussion at a tournament in India in January. She came back in May, then delayed her world championships qualifying series from June 23 to Oct. 6.

Maroulis took 20 seconds Wednesday to wipe away tears after being asked if she had considered retirement.

“I feel really responsible to do the right thing for my health, not just for myself but to set an example because I get a lot of messages from kids on Instagram — I have a concussion, or my teammate has a concussion.” she said. “There’s this wrestler mindset to just push through — you’re the toughest, find a way to win. But there’s just a lot more to it. I want a long life. I really believe I’m doing everything in my power to get healthy. I also believe that if it ever came down to have to make that decision that I will do the right thing.”

Maroulis didn’t know if she would wrestle again while bedridden for “a lot of time” earlier this year. She is keeping the details of the last several months private. She returned to live practice about 10 days before her rescheduled qualifying series to make the world team Oct. 6.

“I remember walking around every day, just thinking I’m so broken in every way, shape and form,” Maroulis told media three weeks ago. “The one thing that my parents and loved ones kept reminding me is you’ll come out stronger for this. It was a hard, ugly, messy, tough process, but I definitely did. I’m really grateful that I get to wrestle.”

Maroulis froze in Wednesday’s match when Kolesnik smacked her in the head repeatedly.

“I’m so used to telling someone, hey, don’t touch my head,” she said. “I don’t think my head’s injured. I don’t think I injured my head during that match.”

Maroulis met her two primary goals for the year — healing from the brain injury and returning to make a ninth Olympic or world championships team. The third was to three-peat as world champion. She would have tied Tricia Saunders‘ American female record for most combined Olympic and world titles.

“I maybe should have waited a year to come back,” she said. “I’m really tying to consult, get the best wisdom and advice and knowledge from people and then with that make the best decision. … I really believe that I can come back. If not, then I believe that I’ll walk away with my head held high.”

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MORE: Wrestling worlds TV schedule

U.S. junior champions crowned in ladies’ and men’s events

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Gabriella Izzo is the newest junior ladies’ national champion, crowned this week at the U.S. Championships in Detroit. Junior ladies’ national champions of the past include eventual Olympians Mirai Nagasu, Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Bradie Tennell.

Izzo had a commanding lead after the short program, with 60.97 points, where she pulled off her first-ever triple Lutz, triple loop combination in competition. (However, it was deemed under-rotated.) Regardless, her 111.45 points in the free skate combined for 172.42 points and the gold medal.

Audrey Shin, who actually won the free skate by just over a point, earned the silver medal with 165.61 points. Emilia Murdock took home the bronze with 154.48 points.

On the junior men’s side, Ryan Dunk rebounded from second after the short program to win the event. His 132.85-point free skate was enough to crack the 200-point overall score, the only man in the field to do so, and win the gold.

Men’s junior champions include eventual world champion Nathan Chen (twice) as well as Olympians Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

Dinh Tran finished second with 196.03 points after a fourth-place short program. Joonsoo Kim, who lead after the short program on Tuesday, ended up with the bronze medal with 187.95 points.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream each junior competition and replays will also be available on-demand. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

The junior rhythm dance took place earlier Wednesday. Siblings Caroline and Gordon Green lead the field with 70.82 points, while Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik are second with 65.92 points. The brother-sister team of Oona and Gage Brown are in third with 63.34 heading into Friday’s junior free dance.

Also Wednesday, Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow took the lead in the junior pairs’ short program. The junior pairs’ free skate is Thursday. Kate Finster and Balazs Nagy are second, followed by Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard in third.

MORE: Full streaming schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the junior and senior 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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Chloe Kim, David Wise among X Games headliners

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The X Games return to Aspen, Colorado, this week at Buttermilk Mountain. A marquee event on the yearly snowboarding and freeskiing calendar, the X Games will feature a handful of Olympic gold medalists and notable names in action sports. Below are a few storylines to watch for this week:

Nearly full field of Olympic gold medalists will compete in Aspen

All four freestyle skiing gold medalists in X Games events (halfpipe, slopestyle) and five of six Olympic snowboarding champions (slopestyle, halfpipe, big air) are expected to compete in Aspen. Among them is Chloe Kim, who has not lost a contest since the Olympics. She finished last season with a win at the US Open, and has three victories already this season, including at the Dew Tour in December. Since the Olympics, Kim’s star has only grown: she’s thrown out the first pitch at a Dodgers game and become an awards show regular, but her ability to crush her competition on the pipe remains unchanged.

In addition to Kim, the three other U.S. gold medalists from 2018 should all contend: in men’s ski halfpipe, two-time defending Olympic gold medalist David Wise has continued to impress this season, but as in previous years, he’ll be challenged by his teammates, Aaron Blunck and Aspen native Alex Ferreira, who would skip school as a kid to watch the X Games in person. Snowboard slopestyle gold medalists Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson are both podium threats as well.

After missing Olympics, can Sildaru sweep in Aspen?

Three years ago, a quiet and unassuming Kelly Sildaru won her first X Games title at 13, becoming the youngest ever winner in a winter event. Pegged early as a star for the PyeongChang Games in both slopestyle and halfpipe, the Estonian teenager missed the Olympics with a torn left ACL. Sildaru, who hails from a country with no mountains, will attempt a rare triple in Aspen: she’ll compete in slopestyle, halfpipe, and big air. No winter sports athlete has ever won three gold medals at the same X Games contest. Sildaru missed last year’s event due to her knee injury and has looked sharp so far this season: she won the U.S. Grand Prix in halfpipe and the Dew Tour in slopestyle. Sildaru has four X Games medals in total: two in slopestyle and two in big air.

White’s protégé awaits his big moment

Toby Miller learned from the best: the 18-year-old was mentored by three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who brought Miller to PyeongChang as his guest. White hasn’t competed since the Olympics, focusing instead on skateboarding, while Miller is having a notable season of his own: he finished third at the Dew Tour and second at the U.S. Grand Prix. The U.S. halfpipe contingent remains deep: Olympians Jake Pates, Ben Ferguson and Chase Josey are all contenders on any given day, though PyeongChang bronze medalist Scotty James will likely be the favorite.

Big tricks

The X Games are often a staging point for new tricks: in 2017, Norway’s Marcus Kleveland became the first to land a quad in competition, only to be topped by Canadian Max Parrot, who won the event with a quad of his own. Chloe Kim and PyeongChang big air gold medalist Anna Gasser have been at the forefront of innovative tricks this season. Kim, a four-time X Games winner, is still far ahead of the field with back-to-back 1080s, which she used last weekend at a World Cup event in Laax. In October 2018, she became the first woman to land a frontside double cork 1080, though she has yet to execute it in competition. Kim can win easily with the arsenal of tricks she already has – but she’d make a bit of history if she decides to go for it.

In November, Gasser became the first woman to land a cab triple underflip, though like Kim, she has not done so in competition. Known for her progressive approach to the sport and impressive arsenal of difficult tricks, Gasser could attempt the triple at the X Games.