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The good word from U.S. Olympic wrestlers, families

Helen Maroulis after winning the Olympic gold medal (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)

The 2016 Rio Olympics are now history. Sadly, it seemed that too much attention was spent on sideshow elements. Medal-winning swimmers vandalizing a gas station restroom, then concocting a story that they were robbed at gunpoint. A soccer goalie whose sour-grapes comments in defeat said more about her character than the quality of her play. Wrestling coaches who expressed their frustration over an official's call by stripping off their clothes on the mat.

It wasn't all bad behavior in Brazil. In fact, the U.S. wrestling community can take pride in the words expressed by some of its Olympic mat stars and members of their families who were truly gracious in thrilling victory ... and in heartbreaking defeat.

Helen Maroulis

Helen Maroulis made history by becoming the first Team USA women's freestyle wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal ... and she did it by defeating one of the all-time greats in Saori Yoshida of Japan who was going for her fourth consecutive Olympic championship.

Like a true champion, the 24-year-old Maroulis expressed awe and respect for her legendary rival in the gold medal match at 53 kilograms/116.5 pounds.

"I've been dreaming about wrestling Saori for so long," Maroulis, a first-time Olympian, said.

"She's a hero. She's the most decorated wrestler in the sport. It's such an honor to wrestle her."

"When you watch that much video of an opponent, you want to think of that person as the enemy," said Maroulis. "But with Yoshida, I didn't feel that way. You could see the love she felt for wrestling pour out of her. You could see how much she put into the sport. I felt in awe of her. It's hard to explain ... I felt inspired by her."

Immediately after being presented with the ultimate prize in amateur wrestling, Maroulis said, "I was crying because I thought of all the struggles that I went through. It's one thing that I'm going to sacrifice for my own dream, but it's a whole other ballgame when you know that someone else is sacrificing for your dreams, that my parents are sacrificing for my dreams, that my coach sacrificed for my dreams. He's not getting the glory that I get. He doesn't get the medal, my parents don't get the medal. I was just crying because now I have this to share with all of them."

Maroulis' grace and maturity were evident when asked in a TV interview to comment on reports that NBC had chosen to focus on the not-so-mature actions of U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte and three of his teammates at a Shell gas station in the middle of the night.

"I didn't come here to win a gold medal for the media attention," Maroulis said. "I didn't come here to win a gold medal in order to find something within myself or some peace within myself. I found that self-worth before I stepped on the mat. I think that's why I won the gold medal."

"If they covered Ryan Lochte over my match, well, I think that's a poor decision on their part, but I'm not running the show. My job is to be a wrestler, and I stepped on the mat and did what I needed to do. I'm happy with the results."

Maroulis is an impressive role model for the next generation of emerging athletes ... especially when one realizes she wasn't always at the pinnacle of her sport.

"I would not be the person you expected to be a wrestler if you knew me when I first started," Maroulis said in an interview back in March. "I was really shy. I quit every sport that I tried because I was scared or I didn't like performing in front of people ... I think girls may look at the sport and think it's for someone who's already tough and already confident. For me, I want to explain to women that it's not true. It's given me confidence."

Adeline Gray lost to Vasilisa Marzaliuk of Belarus in Rio (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)

Adeline Gray

Adeline Gray was arguably the face of U.S. women's freestyle. She was the only amateur wrestler to be featured in ESPN: The Magazine's annual Body Issue. A number of wrestling journalists -- along with Sports Illustrated and other media outlets -- picked her to win the gold medal at 75 kilograms/165 pounds. But things didn't go her way. The Colorado native lost her second-round match, derailing any hope for gold.

"It's disappointing and it's heartbreaking," said Gray after that loss. "I overlooked that girl and obviously I shouldn't overlook a girl who has world and Olympic medals. I beat that girl nine out of 10 times, but it didn't happen today. I got defensive and was just trying to protect my lead."

"I know I'm still one of the best girls in the world and I've proven that on a pretty consistent basis," said Gray, a 25-year-old, four-time world champion. "It's unfortunate that today just wasn't that day. You only get this opportunity once every four years and you have to get the job done."

Later on Facebook, Gray wrote: "I know in my heart that I did everything I am capable of to be the best today and I came out empty handed. This sport has a way of humbling you and showing you your weak areas on the largest stage. I am still one of the best girls in the world at wrestling. I just didn't prove it today.

"It amazes me to see all the people who believed in me and I am honored to know that you believed in me as a person not just a wrestler. Thank you to everyone who supported me. A special shout out to everyone that donated to help get my family here -- they are my support system and I need them now more than ever."

Despite her heartbreak, Adeline Gray displayed gracious support for her teammate who won the gold medal on the day she had been favored by many to do so herself. Here's Gray's post on Twitter:

"I am so proud & honored to called @helen_maroulis my teammate! Happy that @TeamUSA has an amazing representative for our first Olympic Gold!"

Jordan Burroughs fell in the quarterfinals to Aniuar Geduev of Russia (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)

Jordan Burroughs

Jordan Burroughs' wrestling resume is one of incredible accomplishment. Among the highlights: 2006 New Jersey high school state champion. Two-time NCAA champ for University of Nebraska (2009, 2011), and 2011 recipient of the Hodge Trophy, presented to the nation's top collegiate wrestler. Three-time World freestyle wrestling champion. Olympic gold medalist at the 2012 London Games.

Expectations for Burroughs were that he would repeat that gold-medal feat in Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Aug. 19. Sadly, that didn't happen, as the Team USA men's freestyle wrestling champ known on Twitter as @alliseeisgold lost his second-round match to Russia's Aniuar Geduev, ranked second in the world at 74 kilograms/163 pounds ... followed by a second heartbreaking loss to Bekzod Abdurakhmonov of Uzbekistan to deny the New Jersey native of any possibility of earning a medal at the 2016 Olympics.

"It's a tough day. I had a lot of expectations coming here. I wanted to win. I knew I was capable of winning. Sometimes things don't go according to plan," Burroughs said. "I had a lot of expectations coming in here. I wanted to win. I knew I was capable of winning. Sometimes things don't go according to plan. I am a man of faith. Something good will come out of this. It is difficult. I lost a lot of things today. But my integrity and my character remain. I am hoping I can go back, re-evaluate my career, my abilities and what I did wrong today. I have a lot to work on."

"I love the sport of wrestling because it is a testament of your growth, what you are capable of, what you can do as a man. And as nervous and afraid as I was coming into this tournament, I was equally as confident and prepared. I have always made my goals public. The hard thing about being an Olympian is that your failures are public, too," Burroughs concluded.

Lauren Burroughs, Jordan's wife

Jordan Burroughs' wife Lauren posted this message on her Facebook page Saturday morning ... and it has generated a tidal wave of love and support from thousands of wrestling fans for its eloquence ... and heartfelt emotion.

"So overwhelmed by the love and messages we have received since yesterday. Sometimes you can look at sports and athletics as a game, but we live and breathe that game. It is not only my husband's career, but his lifestyle, and mine as well. God has taught us so much through wrestling. Yesterday when Jordan embraced me in the stands he literally left sweat, tears, and blood behind on my white USA shirt. As I noticed it I thought about how for the last three years that we have been married he has come home to me from practice with sweat-soaked clothing and busted up body parts -- broken ankles, sprained knees, unrecognizable ears, stitched eyes and sore everything. And for some 13 years he came home to his mom like that. God made him a great wrestler, and blessed him with specific abilities and every day he squeezes all he can out of those gifts to honor this position he's been put in. So sports for us is more than just a game. It's life. We have become so accustomed to him winning. He's a winner. But sometimes you can prepare perfectly and it just doesn't work out. God wants to grow you in a different way. And going through loss -- no matter what kind -- always grows your spirit in one way or the other. As a friend reminded us today, Christ's greatest glory came in defeat. Today we feel so loved, and as a wife I feel so honored. I may not 'see gold' around his neck this morning, but I see it everywhere else on him. I married a true champion."

J'den Cox with the American flag after winning a bronze medal (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)

J'den Cox

J'den Cox has returned to his hometown of Columbia, Missouri to resume his coursework as a senior at the University of Missouri ... and return to wrestling as a two-time NCAA champ for the Mizzou Tigers. He now owns some significant hardware he did not possess before his trip to Rio: a 2016 Olympic bronze medal in men's freestyle competition at 86 kilograms/189 pounds on Saturday, Aug. 20.

The 21-year-old Cox did it by overcoming a crushing defeat earlier in the day that denied him the opportunity to win gold. And he did it by demonstrating a maturity and philosophical nature not always seen in young athletes.

As he told reporters after the semifinal, "Failure happens. Disappointment, you can control."

"Failure is always going to happen. It is a part of life. Failure happens all the time, disappointment is lingering. I don't have time for that. I have got to move on. That is what I plan to do. I am not going to be disappointed. I am going to keep moving forward. I have no time to look back."

After being presented with his bronze medal, Cox said, "I represented my country the way that life is. Made mistakes, had to overcome and got to ... maybe not where I wanted to end up, but I got to where I needed to go."

"I choose to enjoy what I do and realize I'm still alive, I'm still breathing and have joy in what I do and let it be the past," Cox added. " ... Time-traveling is not invented. Until that day comes, I just have to learn how to accept defeat."

Cox put into words his utmost respect for his opponents.

"It matters to me because ... this is a tough, grueling sport. We all travel hundreds of thousands of miles to come to one venue (and) ... get our faces ripped off by another human being.

"And for six minutes ... excuse me for saying this, (of) going through hell and beyond of just pulling people and yanking people and pulling this and going through (that) ... and losing weight and all this crud that's going on and the crowd and the atmosphere. ...

"It's a beautiful, wonderful thing that's out of pure chaos.

"So I want to show these guys (my opponents) ... that I respect them from coming out on the mat, respect them for facing another human being and putting everything they have on the line. Every single time ... They do that, and that's amazing."

Cindy Cox, J'den's mother

One of the joys of following the wrestling action in Rio was reading the blog of J'den Cox's mother Cathy at MissouriWrestling.com. It provided us mere mortals a truly insightful behind-the-scenes picture of a mom watching her son in action in person, experiencing heartache and joy in the space of a few hours, thousands of miles from home, on the biggest stage in amateur wrestling.

"We are so ecstatic about this bronze medal!" Cathy Cox wrote. "If you watched, you could tell J'den is, too. It's an indication of hard work, focus, blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice and dedication. My son is an Olympic medalist!"

After offering congratulations to fellow Team USA member Kyle Snyder after he won his gold medal, Cathy Cox provided some interesting insight: "I think there's something to be said about he and J'den bringing home medals. Not sure what it is -- LOL -- but two guys who so many wanted to make out to be enemies, end up on the same team and work magic together. Hmmmm ..."

In her blog Cathy Cox was refreshing open and disclosing, sharing a wide range of emotions. She bared her thoughts on the restless night she experienced before J'den would wrestle in Rio ... wondering what her son was thinking, worrying if he was getting enough sleep. And she enthusiastically revealed a mother's joy of J'den's Olympic accomplishment: "Clearing the arena, I hear my son's voice, 'MA! Where are my Cheez-its?' He wasn't happy I didn't bring them in. I told him how proud I was of him. He smiled that little boy grin. He's still having fun. That's what matters!"

Kyle Snyder listens to the national anthem after winning the Olympic title (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)

Kyle Snyder

What an incredible 12 months it's been for Kyle Snyder. In that time frame, the Maryland native won a his second NCAA title, defeating the defending heavyweight champ, Nick Gwaizdowski of North Carolina State, and snapping his 88-match win streak. He was named Ohio State Male Athlete of the Year. He earned a World title last fall in Las Vegas ... and, this past weekend, an Olympic gold medal at 97 kilograms/213 pounds.

In fact, the last U.S. wrestler to rack up World, Olympic and national collegiate titles in the same amount of time was John Smith, six-time World and Olympic champion, who is now head coach at Oklahoma State.

The 20-year-old Snyder is now the youngest U.S. man to win Olympic gold in wrestling, edging out Henry Cejudo, who earned his gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games at age 21. What's more, Snyder becomes the 50th U.S. men's wrestler to have earned an Olympic gold medal. He is first Buckeye wrestler to compete at an Olympics since 1992, and the first Olympic wrestling champion for Ohio State since Harry Steel brought home gold from the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

In interviews after winning the gold medal, the Buckeye big man was reflective.

"Every time the national anthem is played, I think about the sacrifices people have had to make before I was even alive for me to compete," Snyder said in an interview with NBC during the Olympics. "I think about my family and my friends who have done so much for me. There's no way I could be where I am without them ... I am grateful for everything I have."

"It just comes down to what you value," Snyder told the Washington Post. "If you value winning and gold medals, the thing you're going to fear the most is losing. That causes you to tense up. It doesn't allow you to wrestle to the best of your ability. But I am very strict in the way I think about the sport. I do it because I love it. I do it because I want to be the best that I can be at it. If I were to wrestle for however long I can possibly wrestle and I don't win another one because people are better than me, then people are better than me. But I'm not going to spend time thinking about that."

"My love for the sport is what keeps me motivated."

Snyder is a rising junior, ready to hit the mats again for the Buckeyes this fall. In the meantime, he can sit back and bask in the glow of gold.

Comments

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silver-medal (2) about 2 years ago
Love reading the positive messages from our Olympians. This is a wonderful column simply because it has so much wisdom from those who have experienced the highs and lows of competition at its highest level. Thank you Mark Palmer for putting it together.
Cowboy Tim (2) about 2 years ago
The one thing that comes through loud and clear about all five individuals is "class"...everyone of them seems like a class act...people all Americans can be proud of. I am especially proud because I am a " wrestling guy". These young people represented all of America well. Jordan Boroughs has led the American Wrestling Contingent for the last five years & we have been really proud of him for the way he carries himself & the way he competes. Sure, we all wanted to see him win another gold & he gave everything he had. We are disappointed for him but not disappointed in him. I recently (maybe two months ago) read where he plans to compete through 2020. I hope he does because he will be better than ever & a true Captain for our young guns to learn from. J'den Cox carries himself so well....all these folks must have terrific parents because it just doesn't happen by chance...they come from "Gold Medal Parents". I sure hope J'den continues for a few cycles following his college career because he is really improving all the time. Kyle Snyder is such an impressive young man....he proved how much a team man he was by ripping off his "redshirt" in February in order to help his Buckeyes. I admired him for doing it even though I thought he shouldn't. I also knew he would quickly become the worst nightmare for Nick Gwizdowski...anyone is lying if you think Gwiz (an awesome competitor as well) didn't have Snyder in the back of his mind the minute he heard Kyle was going to compete. Helen Mouralis interviews like a champion but not a rehearsed fake interview...very respectful of another champion who she was quietly stalking. Adeline Gray.....I had her penciled in as the champion...even told my wife that but hey other countries have good coaches & hungry athletes as well. Of course we wanted to do better as a country but it wasn't for lack of effort or lack of coaching....we have great coaches in all three areas...Greco, Women's & Freestyle. We learn & next time we'll do better. Hats off to USA Wrestling.