Adeline Gray ties U.S. female record with fourth wrestling world title

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In a mix of exhalation and exultation, Adeline Gray danced holding the American flag behind her back and let out two words: It’s over.

Gray won her fourth wrestling world title in Budapest on Wednesday, tying the retired Tricia Saunders for the U.S. female record.

She defeated Olympic gold and bronze medalists en route to the 76kg heavyweight final against defending world champion Yasemin Adar of Turkey. Gray grabbed Adar’s ankle, scored a takedown and turned her five times to win 13-1.

“I couldn’t walk four weeks ago,” Gray said minutes later. “This training camp has been trash. I’ve been sick this entire week. I weigh 73 kilos right now, and I’m the heavyweight champ of the world. There has been many things that didn’t go right.”

Gray left out what happened 26 months ago. The Coloradoan arrived at the Rio Olympics on a two-year win streak but was upset in the quarterfinals, missing a chance to become the first female U.S. Olympic wrestling champion.

She revealed six months later 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.

Gray, 27, married U.S. Army Capt. Damaris Sanders. She lived outside of a dorm for the first time in her adult life. She said she lost her national team funding, learned how to cook for herself and even thought about having a baby after the Rio disappointment.

“I wasn’t ready to step back on the mat right away,” she said after earning a spot on the world team in June. “They [loved ones] were there with gentle nudges. … I still think I have a gift that can be developed on the wrestling mat.”

A goal this season was to “be on some posters throwing people.”

On Tuesday night, Helen Maroulis, who did win gold in Rio, texted Gray to tell her that she could be world champion. Before she wrestled Wednesday, Gray’s longtime coach, Terry Steiner, looked her in the eye and told her she could win.

“I’ve told her for a long time that she’s the strongest woman I know,” Steiner said. “She has more belief in herself than anyone I know.”

Also Wednesday, American Tamyra Mensah-Stock earned her first world medal, a 68kg bronze. Mensah-Stock won the 2016 Olympic Trials but then failed to qualify a U.S. quota spot for the Games.

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Helen Maroulis’ world championships streak ends after life-altering year

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Helen Maroulis woke Wednesday and felt the best she had in a long time. That was a victory.

Maroulis, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic female wrestling champion during a run as one of the planet’s dominant athletes, was pinned this morning in her 57kg first-round match at the world championships in Budapest.

Maroulis gave up a point at worlds for the first time since 2014. She won her previous 10 matches by a combined 97-0, bagging two world titles while going 78-1 overall among three different weights in three years. No other U.S. wrestler had gone unscored on at an Olympics or worlds the previous 30 years. Maroulis did it in 2015 and 2017.

Then, on Wednesday morning in the Hungarian capital, Azerbaijan’s Alyona Kolesnik forced Maroulis onto her back, ending the match in the second of two three-minute periods.

Maroulis was reflective in the media mixed zone. She alluded to her brain injury. Maroulis suffered a concussion at a tournament in India in January. She came back in May, then delayed her world championships qualifying series from June 23 to Oct. 6.

Maroulis took 20 seconds Wednesday to wipe away tears after being asked if she had considered retirement.

“I feel really responsible to do the right thing for my health, not just for myself but to set an example because I get a lot of messages from kids on Instagram — I have a concussion, or my teammate has a concussion.” she said. “There’s this wrestler mindset to just push through — you’re the toughest, find a way to win. But there’s just a lot more to it. I want a long life. I really believe I’m doing everything in my power to get healthy. I also believe that if it ever came down to have to make that decision that I will do the right thing.”

Maroulis didn’t know if she would wrestle again while bedridden for “a lot of time” earlier this year. She is keeping the details of the last several months private. She returned to live practice about 10 days before her rescheduled qualifying series to make the world team Oct. 6.

“I remember walking around every day, just thinking I’m so broken in every way, shape and form,” Maroulis told media three weeks ago. “The one thing that my parents and loved ones kept reminding me is you’ll come out stronger for this. It was a hard, ugly, messy, tough process, but I definitely did. I’m really grateful that I get to wrestle.”

Maroulis froze in Wednesday’s match when Kolesnik smacked her in the head repeatedly.

“I’m so used to telling someone, hey, don’t touch my head,” she said. “I don’t think my head’s injured. I don’t think I injured my head during that match.”

Maroulis met her two primary goals for the year — healing from the brain injury and returning to make a ninth Olympic or world championships team. The third was to three-peat as world champion. She would have tied Tricia Saunders‘ American female record for most combined Olympic and world titles.

“I maybe should have waited a year to come back,” she said. “I’m really tying to consult, get the best wisdom and advice and knowledge from people and then with that make the best decision. … I really believe that I can come back. If not, then I believe that I’ll walk away with my head held high.”

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Abdulrashid Sadulayev pins Kyle Snyder in Rematch of the Century

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Kyle Snyder called out Abdulrashid Sadulayev in the spring, saying he could beat the Russian more soundly than in the 2017 Match of the Century. That Sadulayev was getting bad advice from those who told him he could beat Snyder if he entered the world championships in the 97kg freestyle division again this year.

Turns out, Sadulayev’s advisers were right.

The Russian Tank pinned Snyder for gold in the Rematch of the Century at wrestling worlds in Budapest on Tuesday. It was over in 70 seconds.

Sadulayev took control with a single-leg shot at 40 seconds, quickly took Snyder down and, after 20 seconds of jostling, used his 215 pounds on top of Snyder to get the American’s shoulders on the mat.

“Ended quickly,” Snyder said. “That stunk. Everybody knows Sadulayev’s a very talented wrestler. He hit me in a good move, and it worked out well for him. … This one doesn’t even really hurt too much right now.”

Snyder, 22, lost on the global championship stage for the first time. In 2015, he became the youngest American to win a world title. In 2016, he became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. In 2017, he beat Sadulayev in the worlds final 6-5, overcoming a two-point deficit in the final minute in a battle of Olympic gold medalists.

Former Russian freestyle coach Magomed Guseynov was proven prophetic Tuesday.

“Sadulayev wasn’t prepared well last time,” he told United World Wrestling before worlds. “[Sadulayev] is 10 times better than Snyder. … Being a coach with 47 years of experience, I guarantee that Sadulayev won’t give him a chance to score a single point. Sadulayev will wrestle as if Snyder is an amateur.”

Sadulayev, a 22-year-old from Dagestan, was undefeated at the senior international level from November 2013 up to that 2017 World final. He beat four Rio Olympic 86kg opponents by a combined 28-1.

Sadulayev was more impressive than Snyder in Monday’s early rounds, winning all four matches by the 10-point mercy rule. Snyder’s closest match was his semifinal, a 3-0 win over two-time world medalist Pavlo Oliynyk of Hungary.

In other divisions Tuesday, three-time world champion Adeline Gray beat Olympic gold medalist Erica Wiebe of Canada to reach Wednesday’s 76kg final. Gray took 2017 off to recover from injuries after surprisingly missing the medals at her first Olympics in Rio.

Helen Maroulis, a 2015 and 2017 World champion and Rio gold medalist, opens her bid Wednesday to tie Tricia Saunders for the U.S. female record of four combined Olympic and world titles.

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