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Dathan Wickson’s wrestling story wowed Jordan Burroughs

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Jordan Burroughs has seen the gamut in nearly a decade at the highest level of wrestling, from Olympic and world titles to significant injury to devastating defeat. Then Burroughs heard about high school wrestler Dathan Wickson Jr. and was floored.

Wickson received the Courage Award from Burroughs during USA Today‘s High School Sports Award show Thursday night.

Less than two years earlier, Wickson spent four hours having a cyst that grew into a tumor removed from between his brain and his skull.

“Wow, just incredible what this kid has been able to overcome in a short period of time,” Burroughs said by phone Thursday evening. “Typically, the adversity that you overcome as an athlete are injuries: a torn labrum, a torn ACL or some sort of injury that happens that’s wrestling related, but this is one of the few times you see an individual that has to overcome something as serious as brain surgery.”

It all began when Wickson was 10 years old. In his sleep, he fell off a couch and hit his head on a coffee table. Doctors closed the wound. Wickson felt fine and went about regular life, including wrestling and playing football.

Then Wickson developed headaches as a high school freshman, so intense that he underwent tests. They showed a crack in his skull, which was connected to that fall several years earlier. A cyst had formed, leaking spinal fluid.

“I was really scared at first because I never think I have to have brain surgery,” Wickson said. “Then, when it started to come down to it [surgery day], my family was really close to me and telling me everything was going to be OK.”

Doctors told Wickson that he would be able to wrestle again. He returned in full this past season.

“At first it was really tough,” coming back from surgery, Wickson said. “I couldn’t do anything at all. We’re just sitting back, watching everybody [practice]. And I like to take action. I don’t like to sit back and watch what other people do, and I can’t do anything. It was a really tough time, but I knew I had to get back out there on the mat.”

His dad and coach, Dathan Sr., was so confident his son would be unaffected in competition that his primary concern was the move from 120 pounds as a freshman to 152 pounds as a junior.

“After he started to go, just the timing of being back on the mat was a big struggle, reacting to his opponents and stuff like that,” his dad said.

Wickson persevered. He won nine straight matches at one point and became the only wrestler from his school — (Rockford, Ill.) Boylan Catholic — to reach the state tournament.

The goal next season is to win a state title. Wickson wants to wrestle collegiately. If he does both, he would follow the path set by his favorite wrestler Burroughs, who didn’t win a state title until his senior year.

“This is a great story, inspirational story,” Burroughs told Wickson on the phone. “When you’re living it, you can’t really see how cool it is, the accomplishments that you’re making and the strides that you’re gaining while you’re living it, but it’s pretty cool to see from the outside looking in.”

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

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