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‘We’re not in control’: U.S. wrestlers finish Olympic qualifier amid uncertainty

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In one of the rare sporting events not canceled this past weekend, U.S. wrestlers competed Friday through Sunday at a Pan American Olympic qualifier in Ottawa, without spectators and with an uncertain future.

Canada’s wrestling federation, after consulting with local health authorities, said Friday that the tournament would go on with essential personnel and limited family members.

“It’s been a hard week for everyone, I think, in the wrestling world and the whole world,” U.S. women’s national team coach Terry Steiner said after all four American women qualified a quota spot for the nation on Saturday. “To be able to just keep your eye on and stay focused on the task at hand was very important. They had to be really mentally resilient.”

The roster included Helen Maroulis, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. Maroulis is coming back this year after a concussion and traumatic brain injuries sidelined her for all of 2019. And David Taylor, a 2018 World champion coming back from a May 5 ACL tear.

Maroulis, Taylor and nine others clinched Olympic quota spots that would under normal circumstances be filled at the U.S. Olympic Trials. On Friday, it was announced that the April 4-5 trials were postponed indefinitely.

“Organizers are working closely with local officials and health experts in hopes of rescheduling the event at [Penn State’s] Bryce Jordan Center,” according to USA Wrestling on Friday.

By Sunday night, after the Ottawa event finished, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended not holding gatherings of 50 or more people in the U.S. over the next eight weeks.

Steiner said after Saturday’s competition that he didn’t know “from minute to minute” whether the Pan Am event would happen.

“Just try to keep their minds on the things they could control instead of getting into everything else was very important, and they did a great job with that,” Steiner said of the American women. “So now we’re waiting and seeing when the next step is.”

U.S. Greco-Roman coach Matt Lindland is waiting, too. His wrestlers competed Friday in Ottawa.

“Even now, we’ve got to take a little time, decompress,” Lindland said Friday. “We need a little bit of time just to let go, step away for a second, live life, keep our bodies healthy, spend some time probably with family, things like that, just get our priorities right. Once we find out more information, we start building a plan. We can speculate all we want, but we’re really not in control of what’s happening right now in the world.”

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U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials postponed

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The U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials, originally scheduled for April 4-5 at Penn State, have been postponed due to the coronavirus.

USA Wrestling said in a press release that the decision was made “due to the ever-changing impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and out of concern for the health and wellbeing of athletes, fans, staff and the community.” The decision was made by USA Wrestling, Penn State, the venue (Bryce Jordan Center) and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

“Organizers are working closely with local officials and health experts in hopes of rescheduling the event at the Bryce Jordan Center,” according to USA Wrestling.

At wrestling trials, the winner in each weight division qualifies for the Olympics, assuming the U.S. qualified (or will qualify) a quota spot in that division. Americans are currently competing through Sunday at a Pan American qualifier for quota spots in Ottawa.

The U.S. has three active Olympic champions — Jordan BurroughsKyle Snyder and Helen Maroulis — and five reigning world champions — J’den Cox, Kyle Dake, Adeline Gray, Tamyra Mensah-Stock and Jacarra Winchester — all in freestyle.

Cox and Snyder are both expected to enter the 97kg division at trials. Burroughs and Dake are both expected in the 74kg division. Cox and Dake won non-Olympic weight classes at the 2019 World Championships, which had more divisions than the Olympics.

Later U.S. Olympic Trials in diving, gymnastics, swimming in track and field are still on as scheduled for June.

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J’den Cox challenges Kyle Snyder for Olympic wrestling spot

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J’den Cox, on the most dominant recent run of any U.S. male wrestler in three decades, will enter reigning Olympic champion Kyle Snyder‘s weight class at April’s Olympic trials.

Only one wrestler per division makes the team for Tokyo.

Cox, a Rio Olympic 86kg freestyle bronze medalist, won world titles the last two years at 92kg, a non-Olympic weight. Last September, he went unscored on at worlds for a second straight year. Only one other U.S. man achieved that once at an Olympics or worlds in the last 30 years.

Then Cox, 24, faced a decision for the Olympic year: go back down to 86kg, or move up to 97kg. He chose the latter, which means he must beat Snyder at trials in Pennsylvania the first weekend of April to make the Olympics.

Snyder has a bye into the best-of-three trials final as a reigning world medalist. Cox has a bye into the semifinals as a reigning world medalist at a non-Olympic weight.

“Really tough decision,” said Cox, who decided months ago but stayed silent until Tuesday. “Partially why I’ve kind of held off on telling the world, plus I like seeing people sweat a little bit.”

Cox said he made adjustments throughout 2019 with 86kg in mind. At some point after worlds, he chose 97kg instead, saying it was a test he owed to himself.

“Obviously, we all know Kyle Snyder’s there,” said Cox, undefeated in 17 matches since late 2018. “It’s an amazing feat that I’m going to have to pull out to even make this team.”

In Rio, Snyder became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20. He followed that by winning the Match of the Century, a 2017 World Championships final with fellow Olympic champion Abdulrashid Sadulayev of Russia.

But Snyder took silver and bronze at worlds the last two years and then changed coaches, moving from Ohio State to Penn State (site of trials) and living in the basement of 2004 Olympic champion Cael Sanderson.

For Cox, a move to 86kg would not have been much easier. David Taylor, a 2018 World champion who missed 2019 after knee surgery, resides there.

“When I’m 65, and I’m no longer able to do this sport, I want to be able to look back and know that I did everything in my power to be the best that I could be,” Cox said. “I want to live a tested life. This is part of my test.”

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