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

Adeline Gray
@Tony_Rotundo/United World Wrestling

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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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

The top seed Alcaraz beat 112th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The Spaniard gets 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the third round.

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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