LONDON - The sprint off the mat, the leap over the barricades and the footrace through the crowd was exactly how freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs envisioned it. With the American flag in tow and fans high-fiving him on his way to section 410 inside the ExCeL, it hit him. His Olympic dream came true.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said after hugging his mom in the stands. “I’ve trained for a number of years, dreamed for a number of years and got it done. I executed perfectly and I’m an Olympic champ.”
Burroughs claimed the first wrestling gold medal for the U.S. at the 2012 Games and the reigning 74 kg. world champion extended his win streak to 38 consecutive freestyle matches. His championship match against Iran’s Sadegh Goudarzi was at a stalemate until Burroughs used the final 30 seconds of each period to secure points. He won by a score of 1-0, 1-0, his fourth victory of the day.
The win marked the third time Burroughs beat Sadegh, with previous victories coming in the world cup and world championships. It cemented Burroughs’ guarantee that’d he’d take home the gold, something he openly talked about since well before the Pan American Games last fall. He said there were few doubts about whether or not he’d get it done, but admitted to feeling nervous before his first match of the day.
“I’ve told everyone I wanted to be the best for a long time and there’s a difference between having a plan and actually executing that plan,” he said, clinging to his gold medal. “A lot of people thought I was cocky. A lot of people didn’t think I had what it takes to be an Olympic champion. No one is laughing anymore.”
Burroughs’ road to the gold-medal match grew harder as the rounds passed. He fell into a groove early with wins against Puerto Rico’s Francisco Soler and Canada’s Matthew Gentry. In the semifinal match against Russia’s two-time world champion Denis Tsargush, Burroughs powered his way through the final 30 seconds of the match to secure two points and take the win, 3-1, 0-2, 2-1.
Then, the four-hour wait between the semifinal win and the final match tested his patience. He tried to lie in bed, put his headphones on and checked up on his Twitter account. The pressure was mounting, but he said he thought about what got him to the match. Memories of the practices, the coaches and his family ran through his mind as he tried to settle down.
“I’m a really eager young man so I wanted to win before the tournament had even arrived,” he said. “When the Olympic Trials were coming, I was staying up until 3 a.m. every day watching wrestling videos, envisioning myself being the best.”
As soon as Burroughs’ arm was raised, he was off jumping into the arms of National Coach Zeke Jones and exchanging hugs with Assistant Coach Mark Manning. He wanted to send a message to his five other freestyle teammates who wrestle Saturday and Sunday that they too can make it to the top of the podium.
“Jordan was our spark plug going into this tournament,” Manning said. “It’s a lot of pressure and he knows that and that’s part of dealing with all those expectations.”
“I'm ready to wrestle anyone that will cross that line. If the Queen of England came out on the mat, I would probably double leg her,” the gold medalist joked.
Burroughs also wins a $250,000 bonus as part of the Living the Dream Medal Foundation that was established to help wrestlers stay in the sport. He’s not so sure if he can afford the Audi a8 he dreams of but said it’s a big change from when he “was a poor college kid” deciding between buying gas and food just a year ago.
For now, he’ll settle for eating the celebratory bag of cotton candy he had in his suitcase since he arrived. After all, he’s been planning this victory for quite some time and is already talking about a repeat in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
“I want to be that star that people can look up to. When you describe wrestling overall in the U.S., I want everyone to know who Jordan Burroughs is,” he said.Earlier on Friday, 55 kg. wrestler Sam Hazewinkel was eliminated after falling to Kazakhstan’s Daulet Nyazbekov, 3-1, 2-0, in the opening round. Nyazbekov lost in the semifinals to Russia’s Djamal Otarsultanov, thus eliminating Hazewinkel.