World champion Adeline Gray set to return to mat at World Team Trials
Adeline Gray has finished third, first and third in the last three World Championships. Larry Slater photo.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – It doesn’t seem like that long ago when Adeline Gray burst onto the international wrestling scene as a teenager.
But it’s been nearly five years since Gray made her first Senior-level World Team.
Three World medals later, including one gold and two bronzes, the 23-year-old Gray remains motivated to be the best.
She will continue that quest during the U.S. World Team Trials, set for Saturday and Sunday in Madison, Wis.
Gray will be the favorite to make her fifth World Team in women’s freestyle wrestling. She will compete at 75 kg/165 lbs.
“I’m ready to go and I’m ready to win,” said Gray, a Denver native who trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “I’m always excited to compete in a big tournament like this. I just need to focus on the Trials, and then the next step will come for me.”
Gray did not compete at the U.S. Open last month because of an injury, so she will have to win the Challenge Tournament during the day to advance to the finals of the Trials. Among the wrestlers Gray may see in the Challenge Tournament is past World champion Iris Smith, who placed second at the Open.
“It will definitely be good for me to get some matches in during the Challenge Tournament,” she said. “I’m a momentum wrestler. I seem to get better as the matches go on. I’m excited to get some matches in and build some momentum.”
Jackie Cataline has clinched a spot in the best-of-3 finals at the Trials after capturing the U.S. Open title at 75 kilos. Cataline also was a top young star as a teenager before taking time off to start a family.
Cataline returned to the mat last season. Gray beat Cataline by a 7-0 technical fall in the Challenge Tournament finals at the 2013 World Team Trials.
“Jackie’s definitely getting better, and she worked really hard to come back,” Gray said. “I will need to be ready to go. She’s definitely a good wrestler with a lot of experience.”
No wrestler in the 75 kilos class has excelled like Gray has.
“The experience I have definitely helps a ton,” Gray said. “I know what to expect and I know how to get myself ready to compete in big matches. I just have to go out and wrestle and do what I have to do to win.”
Gray has had a strong season, particularly in a superb showing at the World Cup this year. She knocked off reigning World champion Zhang Fengliu of China, five-time World champion Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan and World bronze medalist Burmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia in that event.
Gray lost to Fengliu in the 2013 Worlds before coming back to place third.
“The World Cup was a good event for me because I was able to avenge some losses,” Gray said. “I just executed the way I could and I proved that I could beat some of the top wrestlers at my weight class.”
Gray moved up to No. 1 in the FILA World rankings after her showing at the World Cup.
Gray elected to move up to 75 kilos when the weight classes were changed this season. She wrestled at the highest class of 72 kg/158.5 lbs. for the first time last season after previously competing at 67 kg/147.5 lbs.
“I thought about wrestling at 69 kilos when they first changed the weights,” she said. “But after I started having really good success at the World Cup at 75 I decided to stay at that class. I started feeling really good at 75.”
U.S. National Coach Terry Steiner said Gray is poised for another big season.
“Adeline really had a stellar performance at the World Cup,” Steiner said. “She had tough matches all the way through and she wrestled really well. Adeline’s a performer. When the bright lights are on, she’s ready to wrestle. She’s looking really solid right now. She’s going to face some tough competition at the Trials and she’s going to have to earn the spot.”
Gray is taking nothing for granted in Madison.
“I can’t worry about the World Championships right now,” she said. “I obviously still have to make that team first. I can’t look ahead right now. I have a World champion at my weight class in the U.S. and there are some other tough girls in there. I have to get through some talented wrestlers to make our team.”