IOWA CITY, Iowa — The four American wrestlers who earned automatic spots in the Championship Series of nine different weight classes that we held Sunday night up to their billing as 2015 World medalists Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder, Adeline Gray and Andy Bisek earned trips to the 2016 Olympics in Rio by claiming victories in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Burroughs, looking to become the United States’ first back-to-back Olympic champ since John Smith (1988 and ’92), defeated former Wisconsin and Oklahoma All-American Andrew Howe in a rematch of the 2012 Olympic Trials, which were also held in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. This time the former Nebraska Cornhusker won by scores of 9-3 and 10-0 at 74k/163 pounds, then headed up to the stands to kiss his wife and bring his son, Beacon, back to the floor to help him celebrate.
“What is funny is a reporter asked me, ‘Do you think you can replicate what you did in London in 2012?’,” recalled Burroughs about making his first Olympic team four years ago and just two years from his college career. “I was so young and so fresh to the sport. I had no idea what I was doing. Now I feel so much better and mentally tougher. My skill sets are significantly better. I feel stronger and more mentally developed as a man and I have a great team of people around me.”
Snyder, just a sophomore at Ohio State, where he won the NCAA heavyweight championship a month ago in New York City, made sure 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner will not have a chance to repeat in Rio when the 2015 World champ won the rubber match between the two champions, 6-1, to claim the 97k/213-pound weight class.
The past 12 months have certainly been a ride for the native of Maryland, who turned the pain of finishing second in the 2015 NCAAs to claim a World freestyle title last September before winning an NCAA title in 2016 and now another victory over Varner.
“(The past year) is pretty hard to describe,” Snyder said. “Self-belief and the support my family gives me and my coaches is pretty indescribable. I haven’t gotten a chance to even look back on it yet.”
Gray, a three-time World champion, qualified for her first Olympics trip when the native of Colorado dominated Virginia Francis with a pair of technical falls at 75k/165 pounds in women’s freestyle.
“I can’t even believe that it is here,” said Gray, who finished second in the 2012 Olympic Trials at 138.75 pounds. “I have been holding back a lot of emotions leading up to this moment. I qualified for the weight, and I knew I was number one in the world and that I could do this.”
Bisek was one of two Greco-Roman wrestler wrestlers to compete Sunday night. The two-time World bronze medalist won a pair of decisions against Floridian Gordan Speiller to earn a chance to represent the U.S. at the Rio Games at 75k/165 pounds.
“It is incredibly special because it only happens every four years,” said the native of Minnesota. “In this environment and situations, anything could happen on any given day. You have seen it happen so many times, even today, and in years past. But to get it done and be the guy on the stage in front of all of these people is incredible and I am so thankful.”
Meanwhile, Robby Smith, who has twice finished fifth in three past World championships, won consecutive bouts against Adam Coon, Michigan’s three-time All-American, to win the 130k/286.5-pound Greco title. Smith opened the second match with a five-point arm throw.
“I let it fly, I let it fly,” said Smith. “I have always said it, I love to throw guys on their head. That’s what I do. And that is what I did today.”
The other two men’s freestyle weight classes saw surprise winners as Daniel Dennis defeated another former Iowa alum Tony Ramos for the 57k/125-pound championship before two-time NCAA champ J’den Cox defeated Kyle Dake in three matches at 85k/189 pounds.
Dennis won by a 10-0 tech fall in the second match after winning just 2-1 in the opener.
“I haven’t wrestled Tony in a really long time, and in the first heat he clubbed the hell out of me right after the whistle,” said Dennis, who finished second in the NCAAs as a collegiate senior in 2010. “I saw stars and I was like, ‘Holy cow, I forgot how strong he was.’ and it rattled me a little bit. That was how I knew I was in a battle. In the second match, I was ready for that.”
Cox fought off a late takedown attempt by Dake to claim a World Team Trials title, even though the native of Columbia, Mo., has competed in just three freestyle tournaments since entering college three years ago.
“I’m just really excited, I’m blessed,” said Cox, the three-time All-American who will be a senior next year for the Tigers. “My grandmother is here, my father is here, and old coach from high school is here. I think about all of the people that are with me through this journey and it’s just like God works in mysterious ways you just don’t think about how things work so perfectly.”
Cox must now try to qualify the weight class at tournaments in Mongolia and Turkey over the next two months if he wishes to compete in Rio in August.
The same can be said about women’s freestylers Haley Augello and Helen Maroulis, who won Trials titles at 105.5 and 116.5 pounds, but must also win those final Olympic qualifier if they wish to earn a true Olympic spot.
Maroulis, a World champ at the non-Olympic weight of 55k/121 pounds, dropped down a weight to beat fellow World team medalist Whitney Conder in two straight technical falls; four years removed from losing in the 2012 Olympic Trials final.
“The only memory I have of Iowa was tears, and I didn’t want to come out here,” Maroulis said. “But I think it was good to come back. You start to make these comparisons and see areas you’ve grown and improved.”
2016 U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS
April 10 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa
Best-of-three championship finals
57 kg / 125.5 pounds
Daniel Dennis (Titan Mercury WC) dec. Tony Ramos (Titan Mercury WC), 2-1
Dennis won by TF over Ramos, 10-0
74 kg / 163 pounds
Jordan Burroughs (Sunkist Kids) dec. Andrew Howe (New York AC), 9-3
Burroughs won by TF over Howe, 10-0
86 kg / 189 pounds
J’Den Cox (Missouri Wrestling Foundation) dec. Kyle Dake (Titan Mercury WC), 8-1
Dake dec. Cox, 5-3
Cox dec. Dake, 4-3
97 kg / 213 pounds
Jake Varner (Nittany Lion WC) dec. Kyle Snyder (Titan Mercury WC), 4-4
Snyder dec. Varner, 4-0
Snyder dec. Varner, 6-1
48 kg / 105.5 pounds
Haley Augello (New York AC) dec. Victoria Anthony (Titan Mercury WC), 6-4
Anthony dec. Augello, 11-6
Augello dec. Anthony, 8-2
53 kg / 116.5 pounds
Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids) won by TF over Whitney Conder (Army WCAP), 10-0
Maroulis won by TF over Conder, 11-0
75 kg / 165 pounds
Adeline Gray (New York AC) won by TF over Victoria Francis (Titan Mercury WC), 11-0
Gray won by TF over Francis, 10-0
75 kg / 165 pounds
Andy Bisek (Minnesota Storm) dec. Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets), 6-2
Bisek dec. Speiller, 4-0
130 kg / 286.5 pounds
Robby Smith (New York AC) dec. Adam Coon (Cliff Keen WC), 4-1
Smith dec. Coon, 7-2