Adeline Gray wrestles after 6 months away. Her sister wrestles for the first time in 9 years.

Adeline Gray
@Tony_Rotundo/United World Wrestling
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The last time world wrestling champion Adeline Gray competed, she fractured ribs at mid-March’s Pan American Championships in Ottawa, one of the last international sporting events held at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Normally, that kind of injury could debilitate hopes of qualifying for an Olympic team. Normally.

But the Olympic Trials had already been postponed from their early April date. And Gray, as a reigning world medalist with a bye into the trials finals, had the option of postponing her competition due to injury anyway.

Then, a week after Pan Ams, the Tokyo Games were postponed, later rescheduled for the same June/July dates in 2021.

Gray, the American record holder with five world wrestling titles, returns to the competition mat on Saturday at the U.S. Championships in Coralville, Iowa.

The meet has no bearing on next year’s Olympics or Olympic Trials.

It could help determine a U.S. team for a newly scheduled world championships in Belgrade in December, “in the event that [United World Wrestling] keeps the 2020 Senior World Championships on the calendar and USA Wrestling plans to send teams,” USA Wrestling posted on the meet website.

“I feel like every tournament I enter, my career’s on the line,” said Gray, who in 2016 had a two-year win streak snapped in the quarterfinals of her Olympic debut in Rio. “It’s whether or not I make an Olympic team. It’s whether or not I win my next world championship, and breaking history. It’s a lot of pressure each time. This tournament has none of that. I could go out there and lose first round and not have any sweat or lack of confidence going into Olympic Trials. I’m going to open up and take a few more risks and just kind of use it as some training.”

Most of the top U.S. wrestlers did not enter nationals, such as world champions Jordan Burroughs, J’den Cox, Kyle Dake, Helen Maroulis, Tamyra Mensah-Stock and Jacarra Winchester.

Gray and Rio gold medalist and two-time world champion Kyle Snyder are the co-headliners. But there’s another intriguing name in Gray’s 76kg division — Geneva Gray, one of Adeline’s three younger sisters.

Nationals will be Geneva’s first competition in nine years, since high school in Colorado. She went to Northern Colorado on a soccer scholarship, then got into coaching wrestling and has been a training partner with her older sister off and on for a few years.

“[Adeline] kind of put the little bug in my ear and said why don’t you just compete at nationals,” Geneva said. “My dad overheard, and he thought that would have been the best idea ever.

“We decided there’s really nothing to lose here. It’s a chance for me to compete again.”

Though the Grays spent months off mats during the pandemic, they’ve recently practiced — cautiously — at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, along with Mensah-Stock. Restrictions have been such that the sisters, who live together, had to get a special waiver to drive in the same car into the campus.

“I told [Geneva] this is the best time that she possibly could [compete] because a lot of people had their training disrupted, and she’s at least had some consistency,” said Adeline, whose years-long motto has been “Gray to Gold,” part of her social media bios. “We’re hoping that we’ve rubbed off on her enough and not beat her confidence up too bad. It kind of sucks to get your ass kicked every day, but she’s been taking it like a champ and working hard.”

A bracket hasn’t been published, but Geneva said she would probably forfeit if she advanced to a final against her older sister.

“Neither of us would have anything to gain by wrestling each other,” Geneva said. “I wouldn’t want to expose any areas that she might need to still be working on. Then I wouldn’t want to get embarrassed, because she’s really good.

“I just want to prove that I deserve to be out there and that I can hang with the best in the world because I’ve been training with them.”

For Adeline, the return to more regular training and now competition has been a light after a stressful six months. The week after fracturing her ribs in Ottawa, she was displaced when the Olympic Training Center’s facilities closed, including athlete dormitories.

“I had to steal the bed sheets from the training center and kept those until we [Adeline and husband Damaris Sanders] bought an empty house and then could get our stuff delivered,” she said, noting one of her teammates is still couch surfing.

While training in a living room and a backyard, the Grays and other Olympic hopeful wrestlers connected via Zoom calls for stance and motion classes.

“Carpet burns are a little bit worse than mat burns,” Adeline joked in a United World Wrestling video interview this week.

The months off the mat weren’t all that unfamiliar. She underwent shoulder and knee surgeries in January 2017 and went 11 months between matches before returning to become, arguably, the most dominant wrestler in the world.

“Wrestling, obviously, is the most unfriendly Covid game,” she said. “So we are trying to tiptoe around and be as safe as we can.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post miscredited an image of Gray. It is from Tony Rotundo for United World Wrestling.

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Gaon Choi breaks Chloe Kim record, youngest X Games snowboard halfpipe champion

Gaon Choi
Jamie Schwaberow/X Games
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South Korean Gaon Choi broke Chloe Kim‘s record as the youngest X Games snowboard halfpipe champion, winning at age 14 on Saturday in Aspen, Colorado.

Choi, the world junior champion, landed three different 900s in her third of four runs to overtake two-time U.S. Olympian Maddie Mastro. She then landed a frontside 1080 in her fourth run.

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

Choi became the first Winter X Games medalist for South Korea, a nation with a best Olympic halfpipe finish of 14th. She is six months younger than Kim was when Kim won the first of her five X Games Aspen halfpipe titles in 2015.

Kim, the daughter of South Korean immigrants, is a mentor to Choi, according to organizers.

“I began snowboarding because of Chloe Kim and now almost being near her level when she was 14, it feels weird that I can see a possibility that I would go beyond her some day,” Choi said through a translator, according to organizers. “I’m already starting to look forward to the next Olympics.”

Kim, the only woman to land back-to-back 1080s in a contest, is taking this season off after repeating as Olympic champion but plans to return ahead of the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Mastro, who was 12th and 13th at the last two Olympics, landed her patented double crippler (two back flips) on two of her runs, but it wasn’t enough. She was the last woman to beat Kim at the 2019 U.S. Open.

Earlier, American Colby Stevenson earned his second X Games ski slopestyle title, one year after taking silver in ski big air’s Olympic debut. Stevenson, who was one millimeter from brain damage in a 2016 car crash, capped his first two of four runs with 1620s, according to commentators, taking the lead for good after the latter.

American Alex Hall, the Olympic slopestyle champion, was seventh.

Later, Zoe Atkin became the first British female skier to win an X Games title, taking the halfpipe in the absence of Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China. Atkin had two 720s in her fourth and final run to overtake Olympic bronze medalist Rachael Karker of Canada.

Atkin, the 20-year-old and Stanford student and younger sister of 2018 Olympic slopestyle bronze medalist Izzy Atkin, was ninth at the Olympics and never previously won an X Games medal.

Gu withdrew on Friday with a knee injury from a training crash.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Madison Chock, Evan Bates win historic U.S. ice dance title for figure skaters in their 30s

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their fourth national ice dance title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and made all sorts of longevity history.

Chock and Bates, fourth at the Olympics and third at last March’s world championships, totaled 229.75 points between the rhythm dance and free dance. They prevailed by 22.29 over Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, the largest margin of victory in a U.S. ice dance since it was shortened from three programs to two in 2011.

“This is probably the best we’ve ever skated in our careers,” Bates said on NBC. “I think that’s the statement that we wanted to make.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko took bronze but are likely to be left off the three-couple team for March’s world championships in favor of Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, last year’s U.S. bronze medalists who planned to petition for a worlds spot after withdrawing before nationals citing mental health.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the top U.S. couple at the 2022 Olympics (bronze) and 2022 Worlds (silver), retired after last season.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Chock, 30, and Bates, 33, who are engaged, became the first dance couple in their 30s to win a U.S. title in the modern era (at least the last 50 years).

Chock and Bates made the nationals podium for an 11th consecutive year, one shy of the record for any discipline.

Bates, who last year became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 13 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that breaks the U.S. record for a single discipline that he shared with Michelle KwanNathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.

Those records matter less to Chock and Bates than what they’re hoping is a career first in March: a world championships gold medal.

They earned silver or bronze a total of three times. All of the teams that beat them at last year’s Olympics and worlds aren’t competing this season, but Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier defeated Chock and Bates at December’s Grand Prix Final, which is a sort-of dress rehearsal for worlds.

“If we don’t win gold at worlds, we’ll be disappointed,” Bates, whose first senior nationals in 2008 came when new U.S. women’s singles champion Isabeau Levito was 10 months old, said earlier this month. “We’ve set the goal for ourselves in he past and haven’t met it yet.”

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