Maroulis ‘breaks through’ with golden & historic Olympic upset

Updated: August 18, 2016


RIO DE JANEIRO — Women’s wrestling in the United States needed someone to “break through” and Helen Maroulis delivered in an epic Olympic way here on Thursday night in Carioca Arena 2.

After smashing four highly ranked opponents in a row for a spot in the Olympic finals against arguably the greatest women’s wrestler in the history of the sport, Maroulis downed Japan’s Saori Yoshida, 4-1, to become the first U.S. Olympic gold medalist in U.S. women’s wrestling.

After the final buzzer sounded, both Maroulis and Yoshida fell to the mat. Both were in tears, but for different reasons. Maroulis had just made U.S. history, Yoshida fell one match short in her bid to follow what teammate Kaori Icho did the previous night: becoming the first ever four-time Olympic gold medalists in any woman’s sport.

“For the U.S., we needed someone to break that barrier like the four-minute mile. We needed someone willing to step across the line and dare to be different and dare to dream big. That’s what happened here tonight,” U.S. coach Terry Steiner said.

“We have a person who finally allowed themselves to dream big and be accountable for everything they do. That’s what this sport is about. For that to happen on the grandest stage, against the grandest champion, says a lot about Helen Maroulis.”

Maroulis had the “weight-of-the-world” pressure on her to become the first Olympic gold medalist — and the United States’ first overall wrestling medal winner  in the 2016 Games — after three-time World champion Adeline Gray at 75 kilograms and another World champ Elena Pirozhkova fell short earlier in the day. (Pirozhkova had a chance to wrestle for bronze but lost by fall to Ekaterina Larionova of Kazahkstan after leading 3-0.)

Yet, Maroulis, who was pinned twice in previous World Championships by the 13-time World champ, was able to enjoy the moment of her first Olympics and wrestle her best.

“All I said over and over again is that Christ is in me and that is enough,” said Maroulis. “I don’t need to perfect. I was looking for perfection everywhere and finally I was like, ‘I’m not going to find it. And what I have is enough.’

“I don’t want to lose because I was scared. I’m free from fear. I kind of forgot I was wrestling for a gold medal. I dreamt about this so much, that I was just wrestling her. And then after I won, it was like, ‘Oh, I get a gold medal.’”

Trailing 1-0 at the break between periods after failing to score from the shot clock in the first period, Maroulis put two takedowns on the board and found off a single attempt by the Japanese star in the second stanza for to get the gold. Maroulis used a slick throw-by for a takedown 24 seconds into the second period for the 2-1 lead. She then added what appeared to be a one-point pushout at the 5:01 mark, but table officials overruled the referee on the mat and awarded her the takedown instead, making it 4-1.

Yoshida had not lost a World-level championship match in a whopping 14 years, she had not allowed any offensive Olympic points since the 2008 Games and no opponent stayed within three points of Maroulis during her championship run in Rio.

Yoshida started downing the eighth-ranked wrestler in the world in Yulia Blahinya Khavaldzhy of Ukraine, 12-1. Maroulis then teched No. 6 Xuechun Zhong of China, 10-0, to advance to the quarterfinals. The 24-year-old then beat a hot two-time World bronze medalist in North Korea’s Suk Myong Jong, 7-4.

2015 World silver medalist Sofia Mattsson was Maroulis’ next victim. Leading 8-0, Maroulis pinned the Swede at the 5:24 mark.

After the finals match, numerous questions were asked by journalists from around the U.S. about what this match means for U.S. women’s wrestling. Many were also comparing it to Rulon Gardner’s 2000 Olympics upset of Alexander Karelin of Russia when he was going for a fourth Olympic gold.

“This is such an incredible feeling. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. All I’ve been thinking about is eating crapes in Greece,” Maroulis said with a smile. “I realized I needed to stay in the moment. God taught me joy is a choice. Today I wanted to just really wrestle, have fun, and put my heart on the mat.”