Jordan Burroughs‘ decade-long streak atop U.S. wrestling snapped at the Olympic Trials.
Kyle Dake swept the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion 3-0, 3-2 in their best-of-three finals series to earn the U.S. spot in Tokyo in the 74kg freestyle division.
Burroughs failed to qualify for the Olympics, after making all nine previous Olympic or world championships teams dating to the start of his senior career in 2011.
“It just sets in that a run is over for me,” Burroughs, a 32-year-old who said before trials he planned to continue wrestling beyond 2021, said on NBCSN. “It’s hard. It’ll be hard for a while. … The future is still bright for me, although it just might not be in Tokyo.
“It’s not over for me.”
In all, 15 wrestlers qualified for the Olympics in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday across men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman. Three more can earn their spots at a global qualifier in May.
All of the other Olympic and world champions won their finals series, including Rio gold medalists Helen Maroulis and Kyle Snyder, plus Adeline Gray, the U.S. record holder with five world titles.
Dake, a two-time world champion at 79kg (not an Olympic weight), became the first American to eliminate Burroughs in a trials. He entered with a 1-7 record against the legend.
It looked emphatically different in their first match. Dake handed Burroughs his first shutout in more than 200 senior-level matches and his first outright loss to an American at the senior level. Burroughs’ four previous defeats to countrymen, including one to Dake in 2017, were via tiebreaker.
Dake scored in the first 10 seconds of the second match, lifting and pushing him out of bounds. Burroughs tried his trademark double-leg takedown near the end of the first period but couldn’t score. Dake scored two more in the first 35 seconds of the second period and held on.
At the end, Dake put his arm around Burroughs, who was on his knees, patted Burroughs’ chest and spoke in his ear.
“I just thanked him, told him I appreciated him,” Dake said. “He’s pushed me to levels I didn’t know I had in myself.”
Dake, 30, made his first Olympic team, eight years after he completed an unprecedented career at Cornell. He’s the only man to win NCAA titles at four different weight classes.
Since, he lost to Burroughs in world championships trials finals in 2013, 2015 and 2017. In 2016, he moved out of Burroughs’ 74kg division and up to 86kg, in part because Burroughs had a bye into the trials final.
Dake, after losing the 2016 Olympic Trials 86kg finals to eventual bronze medalist J’den Cox, moved down to 79kg to win the last two world championships (while Burroughs took 74kg bronze at the last two worlds). Dake then dropped down to challenge Burroughs at Olympic Trials.
All but two of Saturday’s 18 finals series were sweeps.
In the night’s finale, Maroulis pinned Jenna Burkert in 22 seconds in the rubber match of their 57kg series. It ended with tears from both athletes.
Maroulis, after becoming the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic wrestling title in 2016, briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch where she suffered concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I had a really hard time separating my emotions this tournament,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to get back to wrestling.”
Maroulis later revealed that she tore an MCL on March 15 and tweaked it in losing the second match.
“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.'”
Burkert competed one week after her mom died following complications from open-heart surgery. After the loss, she said, “I’m sorry, mom,” on the mat.
“Heartbreak all over again,” Burkert said later. “I know my mom didn’t care about the wins and losses, but I just wanted to honor her with a win.
“I’m not sorry for my loss. I’m sorry for the heartache that my mom went through.”
Maroulis is one of five women on the six-woman Olympic team who own a world championships medal. None have more than Gray, who finished off 17-year-old Kylie Welker in less than two minutes of the allotted six in both 76kg matches.
Gray goes to her second Olympics after shockingly missing the medals in Rio. She was upset in the quarterfinals in 2016, snapping a two-year win streak.
“It was a letdown to not go out there and walk away with a gold medal,” she said. “I really feel like I am the most dominant and best person in the weight class.”
Gray revealed six months after the Olympics that she wrestled in Brazil with a shoulder injury. She underwent surgeries on that shoulder and to repair a torn meniscus in her knee in January 2017 and went 11 months between matches, missing that year’s world championships while also marrying U.S. Army Capt. Damaris Sanders.
Gray wasn’t sure about returning, but racked up a 44-1 record in matches she contested between 2018 and 2020, according to freestylewrestling.org.
ON HER TURF: A look at the U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling team
Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion in history at 20, made easy work of former Ohio State teammate Kollin Moore to make the team at 97kg. Going into the week, a showdown was expected between Snyder and two-time world 92kg champion J’den Cox, but Cox missed weight before Friday’s early rounds.
Snyder may have another epic in Tokyo with his primary international rival, Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev, arguably the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestler.
The U.S.’ other top medal prospects are led by Tamyra Mensah-Stock, who also won the 2016 Olympic Trials but then failed in three tries to qualify the U.S. quota spot for Rio at international tournaments. Mensah-Stock came back to win the 2019 World title at 68kg, beating the Rio gold medalist from Japan.
“A long time coming,” she said. “I wanted to come back and prove to myself and everybody that I can become an Olympian.”
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