Helen Maroulis, trailblazing Olympic wrestling champion, back at trials after briefly retiring

Helen Maroulis
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Helen Maroulis had enough. She grabbed her phone, called her mom and said it: I’m retiring.

That was a year and a half ago. Maroulis, who in 2016 became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic wrestling title, was by the end of 2017 one of the world’s dominant athletes not only in her sport, but also across all sports.

Life changed on Jan. 10, 2018. Maroulis suffered a head injury in a match in India. She endured most of 2018 and 2019 sidelined by concussions, shoulder surgery and post-traumatic stress disorder.

She spent days in dark, silent rooms. She wore noise-canceling headphones and special glasses. At its worst, she didn’t recognize her own reflection in the mirror.

It got really bad after her last concussion in August 2019. She wondered if she would ever return to a normal life.

“I just decided that I wanted to be done with wrestling at that time,” she said last week.

But Maroulis is not done with the craft that she’s loved since going 1-30 in her first year at age 7. Following her brother onto the mat, she bet their dad that if she won her first match, she could continue. It turned out to be her only victory all year.

Now 29, Maroulis is out of a brief retirement and the favorite to win her division at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in Fort Worth, Texas. She has a bye into Saturday’s finals. A full broadcast schedule is here.

She said her head is 100 percent, and it has been that way for a while. She’s never felt better.

“I’m still fast. I’m still strong, and I think I’m still really great at wrestling,” she said. “At least that’s my hope.”

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That 2019 phone call with her mom, Paula, helped keep her in the sport. Maroulis wanted to turn to dancing. Her mom said two things. 1) If you’re fearful of getting injured again, go ahead and retire. 2) Do I think you can win another gold medal? Absolutely. 

“That just kind of broke me,” Maroulis said, recalling tears. “I don’t want to stop too soon.”

Maroulis, during the short retirement, continued her recovery with sports medicine staff while visiting family in Maryland for Christmas 2019. She began feeling better and, early that winter, ventured down the street to The Capital Wrestling Club.

“Go visit, give back, maybe get a workout in. Didn’t have any expectations,” Maroulis said. “I knew that I still had symptoms, so I knew wrestling wouldn’t be good for me.”

She drilled for 20 minutes, then went home and lay in bed for an hour or two while an anxiety attack passed. She prayed. She asked the doctors and therapists if returning to wrestling gradually might dissipate the symptoms.

“I just kind of thought a lot of the trauma happened in wrestling, and I think I just need to go back and be on the mat and figure it out,” Maroulis told Flowresting in a video interview two months ago. “Could I retrain my brain to not freak out in any wrestling environment or situation?”

Over a few weeks, Maroulis spent more and more time at the club. And less and less time feeling off afterward. By Feb. 8 of last year, with medical approval, she wrestled the top U.S. woman in her weight class for a spot in an Olympic qualifying tournament. Maroulis pinned her in both matches in her first competition in 16 months.

“I’m still that little girl that fell in love with the sport that’s going to live it until the day I die,” she said then. “If I can have one more opportunity to enjoy that, then I’m going to do it.”

Then Maroulis went to the Olympic qualifier in Canada and won that, earning the U.S. a quota spot for the Tokyo Games just before the pandemic stopped sports. And earning herself a bye into the finals of the Olympic trials, which were postponed by a year to this Saturday.

She said she pushed herself in training enough times in the last 14 months, without repercussions, to know that she’s normal again.

“Everything that I went through has made me 1) stronger and 2) better prepared for this,” she said last week. “Being bedridden and just not knowing if I was ever going to compete again, I think, really freed me up to appreciate every little moment and to not take anything for granted. Just going through the fire and coming out of it, and coming out of it not just alive, but thriving.”

ON HER TURF: Where are the heavyweights? Wrestling weight classes exclude larger women

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 12 Frances Tiafoe and No. 16 Tommy Paul are the highest-seeded Americans, all looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw French Open Men's Singles Draw

At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback


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.”

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. Djokovic, the No. 3 seed, swept 83rd-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (2), 6-0, 6-3 to reach a third-round date with 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

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.”

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