Seven-time Trials winner Pirozkhova turns to more than luck

Updated: June 5, 2014

(Editor’s Note: On May 31 and June 1, USA Wrestling hosted Phase I of the World Team Trials in Madison, Wisc., where 12 of the 24 spots on the 2014 World Team was filled in either men’s or women’s freestyle. Six Greco berths will be filled June 13 in Daytona Beach, Fla., while the remaining six spots over the three styles will be determined during the Junior/Cadet Nationals, July 19-24, in Fargo, N.D. In honor of this seven weeks of World Team Trials, WIN is providing features on those who have qualified to compete in Uzebekistan in September.)

By Mike Finn

Since 1989, when FILA first offered World or Olympic Championships for women’s wrestling, only two Americans have represented the United States more than Elena Pirozhkova.

Patricia Saunders, the first woman inducted in the United States Wrestling Hall of Fame, competed in 11 Worlds and won gold medals in 1992, 1996, 1998 and 1999, as well as the 1993 World silver medal.

Kristie (Marano) Davis won nine World medals: gold in 2000 and 2003, silver from 1996-99 and bronze in 2002 and 2006.

But neither got a chance to earn an Olympic medal, much less wear a USA singlet in Olympic competition. Saunders competed before the first Olympic action in 2008 and Davis came short in her two bids.

Pirozhkova, who won two of three Championship Series matches against Erin Clodgo, June 1, in Madison, Wisc., to claim her seventh World/Olympic team membership at the World Team Trials, knows she is in rare air when it comes to talking about the greatest U.S. women’s wrestlers.

The native of Russia, who was raised in Greenfield, Mass., wants to be remembered for more than being a pioneer of the sport.

“I want to be the first women’s Olympic gold medalist in the United States,” said Pirozhkova, looking ahead to the 2016 Games in Rio.

Overall, Pirozhkova is 19-9 in either World or Olympic competition since earning her first spot in 2008 at the World Championships and has earned three medals. (FILA offered World Championships in women’s freestyle in the same year as Olympic Games since only four of the then women’s weights were offered in 2008 and 2012.)

The following is a breakdown of her performances in those past World/Olympic tournaments:

• 2008 Worlds — finished 1-1 and eighth in Tokyo, Japan

• 2009 Worlds — finished 2-2 and seventh in Herning, Denmark

• 2010 Worlds — finished 4-1 and won silver in Moscow, Russia (lost to Japan’s Kaori Icho in finals)

• 2011 Worlds — finished 4-2 and fifth in Istanbul, Turkey

• 2012 Olympics — finished 0-2 in London, England

• 2012 Worlds — finished 4-0 and won gold medal in Strathcona, Canada

• 2013 Worlds — finished 4-1 and won bronze medal Budapest, Hungary

But when it came to qualifying for her seventh straight Trials championship, Pirozhkova got a much tougher battle against Clodgo. After Pirozhkova won the first match 4-0, Clodgo forced a third bout with a 2-1 victory in Match 2, before the 27-year-old veteran American won the finale, 2-1.

“I always expect myself to dominate,” said Pirozhkova, who beat Clodgo, 3-0 in the finals of the 2014 U.S. Open in April. “That’s the way I always envision going into every match. I definitely had a tough time this tournament. Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty. Sometimes, you have to grit it out.”

So what does it take for someone to win seven straight World Trials titles?

“A lot of hard work. Great people around you. Folks helping you. Busting your (rear) every day,” she said. “Every little detail matters down the road.”

That road may have been bumpy some years in the past decade. Pirozhkova hopes to pave it with even more historical moments.