Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake set to resume rivalry at U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials

1 Comment

Since 2011, Jordan Burroughs dispatched every single countryman in the 74kg division to make Team USA nine years running, winning four world titles and an Olympic gold medal.

Burroughs’ greatest test yet may come on Saturday, when he tries to make a third consecutive Olympic team and his 10th national team in a row overall.

That’s because Kyle Dake, an NCAA wrestling legend a decade ago, is his likely opponent in the Olympic Trials finals in Fort Worth, Texas. Burroughs is 7-1 in his career against Dake, but they haven’t faced off since 2017. Since then, Dake won his first two world titles (in a different weight class).

“[Dake] is Larry Bird to Magic Johnson,” said Burroughs, who previously compared his early pro career rivalry with Russian Denis Tsargush to the 1980s NBA icons. “He is the individual that presents and poses the biggest challenge for me.”

The Burroughs-Dake rivalry dates to 2013. Burroughs, coming off an Olympic title, and Dake, who had just become the first man to win NCAA titles in four different weight classes, met in the 74kg finals in the world championships trials that year.

Burroughs swept Dake. He did so again in 2015. In 2016, Dake moved up one weight division for the Olympic Trials, in part to avoid Burroughs, who had a bye into the Olympic Trials finals. Dake lost in the 86kg Trials finals to J’den Cox, who took bronze in Rio and, like Dake, won his first world titles in 2018 and 2019.

WATCH: Jordan Burroughs documentary on Peacock | Olympic Trials TV schedule

In 2017, Dake returned to 74kg and handed Burroughs his first loss on U.S. soil in eight years, taking the opening match of a three-match series in the world championships trials finals.

Burroughs came back to win the next two matches, then, as in 2013 and 2015, followed his defeat of Dake to win the world title months later. Dake, after being runner-up at Olympic or world championships trials four times in five years, considered retiring.

“That was a long time ago. I’ve become a much different wrestler,” Dake said.

He hammered that point in a 25-minute back-and-forth with Burroughs on Flowrestling last April.

“I want you to leave your shoes on the mat after I beat you,” Dake said, referring to the symbolic sign of retirement in the sport.

“You have tremendous results,” Burroughs said, “against everyone but me.”

They went at it again in a Twitter exchange in December.

“There was a lot of pent-up emotion going into the Olympic Team Trials, and things were said, water under the bridge in my book,” said Dake, who planned to challenge Burroughs at 74kg in 2019 before an MCL tear and surgery kept him out of competition for eight months. “I try not to take anything too personally because this is what we do, this is our business. We’re trying to play those mind games. We’re trying to play the battle within the battle.”

For Dake, a 30-year-old father of two, beating Burroughs and reaching his first Olympics would be two major breakthroughs. In 2018, he debuted at worlds at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class. He became the first U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in at least 30 years. He repeated as world champion in 2019, again at 79kg.

Burroughs, a 32-year-old father of three, carries memories of what happened at the last Olympics in Rio. He had the worst day of his life on Aug. 19, 2016, losing twice and failing to earn a medal for the only time in his nine Olympics or world championships.

He broke down in tears repeatedly in the media mixed zone for interview after interview. Burroughs has rewatched most of his 200-plus freestyle matches several times, but he refused replays of the Rio defeats for years after.

“The only thing that can make up for [Rio] is win another gold in 2020,” Burroughs said in 2018.

His biggest obstacle may not come in Tokyo, but in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday.

“I saw a quote by Larry Bird, and he said, the best part about winning the championship was knowing that Magic Johnson was in the other locker room crying,” Burroughs said years ago. “I’m a nice guy off the mat. When I step on the mat, it’s kill or be killed. And someone’s got to die, and I’m not dying.”

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

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Swiss extend best streak in curling history; Norway continues epic winter sports season

Switzerland Women Curling
Getty
0 Comments

Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni extended the most dominant run in world curling championships history, skipping a women’s team to a fourth consecutive title and pushing an unbeaten streak to 36 consecutive games.

Tirinzoni, along with Alina Pätz (who throws the last stones), Carole Howald and Briar Schwaller-Hürlimann, beat Norway 6-3 in Sunday’s final in Sandviken, Sweden.

They went 14-0 for the tournament after a Swiss team also skipped by Tirinzoni also went 14-0 to win the 2022 World title. Tirinzoni’s last defeat in world championship play came during round-robin in 2021 at the hands of Swede Anna Hasselborg, the 2018 Olympic champion.

In all, Tirinzoni’s Swiss are 42-1 over the last three world championships and 45-1 in world championship play dating to the start of the 2019 playoffs. Tirinzoni also skipped the Swiss at the last two Olympics, finishing seventh and then fourth.

Tirinzoni, a 43-year-old who has worked as a project management officer for Migros Bank, is the lone female skip to win three or more consecutive world titles.

The lone man to do it is reigning Olympic champion Niklas Edin of Sweden, who goes for a fifth in a row next week in Ottawa. Edin’s teams lost at least once in round-robin play in each of their four title runs.

Norway extended its incredible winter sports season by earning its first world medal in women’s curling since 2005.

Norway has 53 medals, including 18 golds, in world championships in Winter Olympic program events this season, surpassing its records for medals and gold medals at a single edition of a Winter Olympics (39 and 16).

A Canadian team skipped by Kerri Einarson took bronze. Canada has gone four consecutive women’s worlds without making the final, a record drought for its men’s or women’s teams.

A U.S. team skipped by Olympian Tabitha Peterson finished seventh in round-robin, missing the playoffs by one spot.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Ilia Malinin eyed new heights at figure skating worlds, but a jump to gold requires more

0 Comments

At 18 years old, Ilia Malinin already has reached immortality in figure skating for technical achievement, being the first to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition.

The self-styled “Quadg0d” already has shown the chutzpah (or hubris?) to go for the most technically difficult free skate program ever attempted at the world championships, including that quad Axel, the hardest jump anyone has tried.

It helped bring U.S. champion Malinin the world bronze medal Saturday in Saitama, Japan, where he made more history as the first to land the quad Axel at worlds.

But it already had him thinking that the way to reach the tops of both the worlds and Olympus might be to acknowledge his mortal limits.

Yes, if Malinin (288.44 points) had cleanly landed all six quads he did instead of going clean on just three of the six, it would have closed or even overcome the gap between him and repeat champion Shoma Uno of Japan (301.14) and surprise silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan (296.03), the first South Korean man to win a world medal.

That’s a big if, as no one ever has done six clean quads in a free skate.

And the energy needed for those quads, physical and mental, hurts Malinin’s chances of closing another big gap with the world leaders: the difference in their “artistic” marks, known as component scores.

Malinin’s technical scores led the field in both the short program and free skate. But his component scores were lower than at last year’s worlds, when he finished ninth, and they ranked 10th in the short program and 11th in the free this time. Uno had an 18.44-point overall advantage over Malinin in PCS, Cha a 13.47 advantage.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Chock, Bates, and a long road to gold | Results

As usual in figure skating, some of the PCS difference owes to the idea of paying your dues. After all, at his first world championships, eventual Olympic champion Nathan Chen had PCS scores only slightly better than Malinin’s, and Chen’s numbers improved substantially by the next season.

But credit Malinin for quickly grasping the reality that his current skating has a lot of rough edges on the performance side.

“I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go for a lot of risks,” he said in answer to a press conference question about what he had learned from this competition. “Sometimes going for the risks you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and go for a lot cleaner skate. I think it will be beneficial next season to lower the standards a bit.”

So could it be “been-there, done-that” with the quad Axel? (and the talk of quints and quad-quad combinations?)

Saturday’s was his fourth clean quad Axel in seven attempts this season, but it got substantially the lowest grade of execution (0.36) of the four with positive marks. It was his opening jump in the four-minute free, and, after a stopped-in-your tracks landing, his next two quads, flip and Lutz, were both badly flawed.

And there were still some three minutes to go.

Malinin did not directly answer about letting the quad Axel go now that he has definitively proved he can do it. What he did say could be seen as hinting at it.

“With the whole components factor … it’s probably because you know, after doing a lot of these jumps, (which) are difficult jumps, it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” he said.

“Even though some people might enjoy jumping, and it’s one of the things I enjoy, but I also like to perform to the audience. So I think next season, I would really want to focus on this performing side.”

Chen had told me essentially the same thing for a 2017 Ice Network story (reposted last year by NBCOlympics.com) about his several years of ballet training. He regretted not being able to show that training more because of the program-consuming athletic demands that come with being an elite figure skater.

“When I watch my skating when I was younger, I definitely see all this balletic movement and this artistry come through,” Chen said then. “When I watch my artistry now, it’s like, ‘Yes, it’s still there,’ but at the same time, I’m so focused on the jumps, it takes away from it.”

The artistry can still be developed and displayed, as Chen showed and as prolific and proficient quad jumpers like Uno and the now retired two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan have proved.

For another perspective on how hard it is to combine both, look at the difficulty it posed for the consummate performer, Jason Brown, who had the highest PCS scores while finishing a strong fifth (280.84).

Since Brown dropped his Sisyphean attempts to do a clean quad after 26 tries (20 in a free skate), the last at the 2022 U.S. Championships, he has received the two highest international free skate scores of his career, at the 2022 Olympics and this world meet.

It meant Brown’s coming to terms with his limitations and the fact that in the sport’s current iteration, his lack of quads gives him little chance of winning a global championship medal. What he did instead was give people the chance to see the beauty of his blade work, his striking movement, his expressiveness.

He has, at 28, become an audience favorite more than ever. And the judges Saturday gave Brown six maximum PCS scores (10.0.)

“I’m so happy about today’s performance,” Brown told media in the mixed zone. “I did my best to go out there and skate my skate. And that’s what I did.”

The quadg0d is realizing that he, too, must accept limitations if he wants to achieve his goals. Ilia Malinin can’t simply jump his way onto the highest steps of the most prized podiums.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!