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Photo: Adeline Gray scored a late takedown against Germany’s Aline Rotter Focken but it was not enough and the five-time World champion settled for a silver medal at 76 kilos in women’s freestyle of the Olympics in Tokyo. (John Sachs photo)
By Bryan Van Kley
TOKYO — Adeline Gray came into the 2020 Olympic Games with something to show the world as the winningest U.S. women’s freestyler of all time. She also came into the Games as one of the leaders on a loaded U.S. women’s freestyle team.
Gray had a major goal she still needed to achieve in bringing an Olympic medal back to Colorado. And she wanted to continue to push the women’s sport forward in the U.S. and around the world as a spokesperson and ambassador.
Despite falling short on Aug. 2 of her ultimate goal of winning a gold medal at 76 kilos by a 7-3 score in the Olympic final to German Aline Rotter Focken — Gray’s long-time friend — the 30-year-old American’s legacy remained intact and her statement to the world about opportunities for women in sports came through loud and clear.
“Adeline is an athlete for the ages and I don’t believe she’s done yet,” coach Terry Steiner told U.S. reporters outside of Makuhari Messe Hall A late Monday night after the 76-kg women’s medal ceremony. “There were two great champions out there tonight and we came out on the short end of it. We made a couple mistakes and it cost us.”
A disappointed but proud Gray spoke to a large group reporters minutes after the match about what Olympic silver meant to her.
“I definitely wanted the title of Olympic champion,” she said. “I think if any tournament would have come to be, it would have been this one. I really thought it was set up for me to succeed. Unfortunately, I still came home with the silver medal.”
This came five years after the Denver, Colo., native Gray lost in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Games after coming in an even larger favorite for gold at those Games because of her dominance.
“My legacy isn’t hurt by this,” she added. “I really think I’ve gone done in the history books as one of the greatest. I showed dominance at this stage.”
Gray has been a consummate spokesperson for women’s wrestling in the United States and around the world. She’s also been an excellent ambassador for women in the area of equality in sports and is at testament to the amazing growth of women’s sports in the last couple decades in United States after growing up in Colorado wrestling mostly boys all the way through high school.
“It’s special,” she said. “Women deserve great coaching and the opportunities the men have. The equality is happening right now. We’re seeing that with wrestling and women in sports. I’m just a piece of that.”
Gray was her normal dominant self in her opening-round match of the Tokyo Games, pinning Tunisia’s 19-year-old Zaineb Sghaier in 3:49. She then held off both Turkey’s Yasemin Adar 6-4 and Kyrgyzstan’s Aiperi Medet Kyzy 3-2 in the quarters and semis, respectively, to face Rotter Focken in the final.
You could tell each win meant something to the five-time World champ. She was especially excited after landing spots in the semis and then securing an Olympic medal with her semifinal win, waving to the small crowd of media on both sides of the arena each time … and moments after collecting herself when the buzzer sounded on her Olympic final.
She also spoke to reporters after the final about how neat it’s been to see a group of 76-kilo women’s wrestlers improve collectively over the last number of years.
“I think I’ve pushed this group of very competitive women to new heights and they’ve been chasing me for years,” Gray said. “It just shows these women are really strong and they’re getting great coaches who are working with them,” Gray said, concluding her interview by committing to wrestle through this fall’s World Championships.
Gray said she hopes to have a chance to avenge the loss to Rotter Focken, but added she’d need to process the decision of continuing to wrestle the next three years before the Paris 2024 Games with her husband after this fall.