United World Wrestling

Jordan Burroughs reaches out to wrestler forced by referee to cut dreadlocks

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Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs offered his support to fellow New Jersey wrestler Andrew Johnson, who was forced by a referee to cut his dreadlocks in order to compete on Wednesday night.

Johnson, who is black, had a cover over his hair, but referee Alan Maloney, who is white, said that wouldn’t do.

Burroughs posted and spoke on social media early Saturday morning after researching what happened. Maloney was recommended by New Jersey’s high school athletics association not to be assigned to any events while the matter is under review.

Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, said that Maloney was a referee for some of his matches while in high school. Burroughs’ school is 15 miles north of Johnson’s school.

“Let me tell you how sickening this is,” was tweeted from Burroughs’ account. “I’ve been wrestling for 25 years, at every level, and I have never once seen a person required to cut their hair during a match. This is nonsense. As a referee, you are required to check the hair and nails of all wrestlers BEFORE a match. My opinion is that this was a combination of an abuse of power, racism, and just plain negligence.”

Wrestlers are allowed to wear legal hair covers during matches, according to wrestling rules set by the National Federation of State High School Associations, NJ.com reports. If a wrestler’s hair in its natural state extends below the earlobe on the sides or touches the top of a normal shirt, it’s required to be secured in a hair cover.

Maloney came under fire in 2016 for using a racial slur against a black referee, according to the Courier Post newspaper. At a private gathering between officials at a condominium, Maloney allegedly poked referee Preston Hamilton, who is black, in the chest and allegedly used a racial slur during an argument over homemade wine. Hamilton slammed Maloney to the ground, according to the Courier Post.

Maloney told the newspaper he did not remember making the comments.

After Hamilton reported the incident, Maloney agreed to participate in sensitivity training and an alcohol awareness program. Maloney was to be suspended for one year for his use of the slur and Hamilton would receive the same suspension for assaulting Maloney. Both officials appealed their suspensions, which were overturned.

Burroughs said he would reach out to Johnson, calling him brave and courageous in a four-minute Instagram video:

“I didn’t want to talk about it or post anything on social until I actually was educated and knowledgeable about specifically what happened. Now that I’ve done a little bit of research, I feel like I can speak from a position in which I know what I’m talking about a little bit. …

“No. 1, Andrew Johnson, the young man that wrestled last night, congratulations on your overtime win and winning the dual for your teammate. That was a very courageous and a very brave thing that you did. … 

“The fact that with all the adversity and racism that you were facing in the moment, that you were still able to stay focused and go out there and get the W for your team, I respect that about your team.

“The fact that the parents and the coaching staff in that gymnasium allowed for you to be put in this position and didn’t protect you is absolutely shameful because although in that moment with the pressure of your peers and the dual victory on the line, I know that going out there and cutting your hair and getting your hand raised seemed like sticking it to the ref, but ultimately, you know what would have been more powerful? Walking away and saying, you know what, I’m keeping my hair. But man, I can imagine it must have been tough out there on the mat, right? …

“But it wasn’t your job. It was the parents’ job, and you guys let him down. The bottom line is this young man, especially young man in a traditionally and predominantly caucasian sport out there defenseless. You guys gotta help this young man. You’ve got to protect him. In high school, as you’re growing and you’re developing, you’re establishing who you are, you’re creating an identity. I know, as a young black man, how much my hair meant to me. And I also know, as a black man, how long it takes to grow dreads and how much discipline it takes to maintain them.

“The fact that you guys allow him to cut them matside? Look at this man after the match. He won the dual. He won the match in overtime. He showed no excitement, no exhilaration, no celebration. He just shook hands, and he walked off. That was for you guys. It wasn’t for him. So, as excited as you guys were in the stands, deep down inside he was hurting. He was hurt. And that wasn’t fair. So, Andrew, I’m sorry. Parents, come on, we’ve got to do better. Coaches, we’ve got to do better.

“As much as Andrew wanted to be the hero here, coaches, parents, adults, we have to intervene. Alan Maloney, bro, come on, you’ve got to stopped, dog. Like, you have been a referee since I was a kid. You reffed some of my matches when I was in high school, and this isn’t the first incident that you’ve had in South Jersey. I had a lot of respect for you, and I still have a lot of respect for you as a referee, but as an individual, as a man of character and integrity, there’s no way. Listen, you’ve got to step away from the stripes for a second. Put the whistle down and be a man. …

“[Maloney] can’t do this to a young dude. It’s a struggle for him. And it will be because now he’s got to go back to the crib with his head chopped. He went viral for something that he didn’t want to go viral for. Right? So now you’ve got to pay the consequences of your actions and the things that you did. 

“Basically, the bottom line is, Andrew, I’m sorry. Alan, you’ve got to be stopped. Man, you’re going to face consequences, and rightfully so. Parents and coaches, I love you guys. Continue to harbor a safe environment for this dude, right? Give him love. Give him respect. Give him honor. Encourage him. Andrew, you’re the man. I appreciate you. I’m going to be in contact with you very soon. So if you are listening to this, please send me a DM. I want to get in touch with you. I’m going to send you a few cool things for Christmas. I know it won’t help ease the pain, but hopefully it gives you a little bit of love.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and to follow the path set by Armstrong to the top of an Olympic podium. Hopefully, road and track podiums.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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