Jake Varner

Jordan Burroughs leads U.S. wrestlers clinching Olympic berths

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Jordan Burroughs planned a special celebration after making his second Olympic team on Sunday night.

“A 24-hour doughnut place,” he said after throwing his singlet into the crowd. “I might go at like 3 a.m.”

Then it’ll be back to work.

The London gold medalist swept Andrew Howe in the best-of-three finals in the freestyle 74kg division at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Iowa City on Sunday night, earning his spot in Rio in August.

Then he darted into the Carver-Hawkeye Arena stands to find his pregnant wife, Lauren, and 1-year-old son, Beacon. Lauren gave her husband a letter before Sunday’s match telling him he was destined for greatness.

“I’m just happy to be going to Rio,” Burroughs said while holding Beacon on NBC Sports Live Extra. “I’ve got to get some mosquito repellent.”

Burroughs is now 124-2 in senior international competition. He’s a different wrestler, a different man, since winning his maiden World title in 2011.

“I was single [in 2011], I was living in an apartment, I had a busted headlight on a Chevy Impala,” he joked.

In Rio, Burroughs can become the third U.S. wrestler to win back-to-back Olympic titles, joining George Mehnert (1904, 1908) and John Smith (1988, 1992).

Burroughs’ long-stated goal is to reach Smith’s American record of six combined Olympic and World titles. The 27-year-old can notch No. 5 on Aug. 19.

“I really look up to the trailblazers,” Burroughs told Smith on Live Extra. “For a lot of my career, I’ve been able to say I’ve been chasing John Smith.”

MORE: List of U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics

Burroughs was joined by five more wrestlers who clinched U.S. Olympic berths Sunday, all first-time Olympians.

“Making the team for a lot of guys is an amazing feat, but for me is customary,” Burroughs said.

He won’t be joined by the other 2012 U.S. Olympic champion, Jake Varner, who lost to reigning World champion Kyle Snyder in the freestyle 97kg finals.

Snyder, 20 and the youngest American to win a World title, will become the first reigning NCAA champion to wrestle on a U.S. Olympic team since 1976. He will also become the youngest American to wrestle freestyle at the Olympics since 1976.

“The Olympics are just a little bit different, everybody knows that,” Snyder said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “All the eyes are on you, and that’s what I like.”

Daniel Dennis is going to the Olympics after giving up the sport and living in a pickup truck three years ago. Dennis upset two-time World team member Tony Ramos in a battle of former Iowa Hawkeyes in the freestyle 57kg finals.

“I’ve got an extra bedroom at my place,” Burroughs joked after learning of Dennis’ background. “He’s going to have to sleep in the same room as my son, Beacon, though.”

Adeline Gray, a two-time reigning World champion in 75kg, will be favored to become the first U.S. woman to take an Olympic title in August. She made quick work of Victoria Francis with tech falls less than halfway through both matches.

Gray is on a 37-match winning streak dating to July 2014.

“It’s awesome to know that I have a lot of titles, and I know I am a great wrestler, but there’s something about being special in that Olympic year, that the world now knows that I’m special,” a teary Gray, who cried for 30 minutes after losing in the 2012 trials finals, said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “I get to call myself an Olympian forever, and it’s an amazing feeling.”

Andy Bisek, whose World bronze medals the last two years are the U.S.’ only Greco-Roman Olympic or World medals since 2009, swept Geordan Speiller in the 75kg division.

“Being on the podium two years in a row shows me that I belong,” Bisek said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “There’s no reason I’m not at the top in Rio.”

The first to earn a Rio spot Sunday night was Robby Smith, who swept Adam Coon in the Greco-Roman 130kg finals. The bearded, tattooed Smith then bawled in an NBC Sports Live Extra interview after making his first Olympic team.

Smith made the last three World Championships teams, losing a bronze-medal match last year, and placed third at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

“I love to throw guys on their head,” Smith said. “That’s what I do.”

Also Sunday, J’Den Cox won the U.S. Olympic Trials one month after winning an NCAA title. Cox, a University of Missouri junior, won the freestyle 86kg finals over Kyle Dake, who in 2013 became the first wrestler to win NCAA titles in four different weight classes.

Cox isn’t qualified for Rio yet. He can do so at an international tournament later this spring.

World champion Helen Maroulis and Haley Augello won the women’s 53kg and 48kg divisions, respectively, and can clinch Olympic berths at an international tournament later this spring.

On Saturday night, three 2012 Olympians became the first members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic wrestling team.

MORE: First American born in 2000s to make Olympic team

Jake Varner, Kyle Dake reach U.S. Olympic Trials finals

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Olympic champion Jake Varner is one step from returning to the Games. Four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake is close to his first Olympics.

Varner and Dake each won their three U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying matches to move into Sunday night’s best-of-three finals in Iowa City (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

Varner will face Kyle Snyder in the freestyle 97kg finals in the first matchup of reigning Olympic and World champions at a U.S. Olympic Trials since 1988.

Snyder, an Ohio State sophomore, upset Varner at last year’s World Championships Team Trials before becoming the youngest American to win a World title in September.

Dake will face University of Missouri rising senior J’Den Cox in the freestyle 86kg finals. The winner of that match must qualify for the Olympics at an international tournament later this spring.

“J’Den’s a good competitor, you know what I mean, he’s strong, he’s big,” Dake, with a bloody cut near his left eye, told media Sunday afternoon. “We’ll just see how good his freestyle savviness is.”

Other Sunday night finals include Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs against Andrew Howe in 74kg, a rematch of the 2012 Olympic Trials finals.

Howe advanced through three qualifying matches Sunday to face Burroughs, who had a bye into the finals as a reigning World medalist.

World champions Helen Maroulis and Adeline Gray are in the women’s 53kg and 75kg finals.

The biggest upset on Sunday morning came in Dake’s division, with top seed Jake Herbert falling in his first match to Cox.

Later, Dake defeated two-time NCAA Wrestler of the Year David Taylor to reach the finals. Dake and Taylor were the top two challengers to Burroughs before leaving Burroughs’ division in the last year.

MORE WRESTLING: Three 2012 U.S. Olympians earn Rio berths Saturday

Olympic champ, World champ may vie for one U.S. Olympic wrestling spot

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Jake Varner gets no breaks as a reigning Olympic champion at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials on Sunday.

To get to Rio, Varner must advance through a qualification bracket and then defeat the rested reigning World champion Kyle Snyder in the best-of-three finals.

A matchup of reigning Olympic and World gold medalists has happened before at the U.S. Olympic Trials — when John Smith defeated Randy Lewis in 1988.

USA Wrestling couldn’t name an instance since, making a possible Varner-Snyder finals matchup arguably the most anticipated showdown of the entire two-day event in Iowa City.

“As much as he’s preparing for me, I’m preparing for everybody else,” said Snyder, who at 20 is 10 years younger than Varner. “The feeling that I had winning at the Worlds only makes me want it more.”

Snyder also remembers the feeling in 2012, inspired by watching Varner take 96kg gold at the London 2012 Games.

Snyder and Varner went head-to-head for the first time a little over one year later in practice at an Olympic training center in Colorado Springs.

Varner dominated.

“It was kind of like, he’s a man, I’m a boy,” said Snyder, then a high school senior coming off a 179-0 record in three seasons at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Maryland.

MORE: Olympic Wrestling Trials Broadcast Schedule

Over time, Snyder closed the gap on the Olympic champion in training camp sessions. The turning point came about one year ago.

“I was able to shut down pretty much his offense and get to my attacks when I needed to,” said Snyder, then an Ohio State freshman.

By May, Snyder found himself grappling with Varner in the finals of the U.S. Open. And winning 2-1.

Snyder had lost in the Big Ten and NCAA Championships finals in March and then beat the reigning Olympic champion two months later.

He proved it was no fluke in June, sweeping Varner 4-1, 3-0 at the World Championships Team Trials.

Then, on Sept. 12 in Las Vegas, Snyder became the youngest American to win a World Wrestling Championship, upsetting the defending World champion 97kg freestyler from Russia via a tiebreaker.

By earning a medal of any color, Snyder also earned a bye into the Olympic Trials final.

Everyone else, including the Olympic champion Varner, must go through a qualifying bracket on Sunday morning and afternoon for the right to face a fully rested Snyder in the finals (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

“[Snyder] puts some depth in our weight class, but I’m coming to win another gold medal,” Varner said on the Big Ten Network in February. “I’ve got to go through the [Olympic Trials] tournament, that’s fine. It’s just like going through the Olympics, through the Worlds, and then you’ve got to beat [Snyder] two out of three. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. A little harder is sometimes the way it’s got to be done.”

Snyder originally planned to sit out the 2015-16 NCAA season to focus on preparing for the Olympic Trials. The format of NCAA wrestling — folkstyle — is slightly different from international freestyle wrestling.

But then, at 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Snyder and Ohio State surprised the wrestling community by announcing he would rejoin the program mid-season.

“The more matches I get, the more I can learn from quality opponents and the more I can grow as a wrestler,” Snyder reasoned.

He claimed Big Ten and NCAA titles for the first time as a sophomore, capping the abbreviated campaign with an epic NCAA Championships heavyweight final win over NC State’s Nick Gwiazdowski, ending an 88-match win streak on March 19.

Afterward, Snyder said he made the right decision to compete for the Buckeyes, even if he would have lost to Gwiazdowski.

“And hopefully I can prove that April 10,” he said.

MORE: Burroughs left with clearer path to Rio after rivals change divisions