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U.S. Olympic Wrestling Medalists Cash In

By Aimee Berg | Nov. 15, 2012, 4:30 p.m. (ET)

Living the dreamTeam USA wrestlers pose for a photo at the Living The Dream event in New York City.

NEW YORK – His Twitter handle may read “All I See is Gold,” but on Wednesday night in Manhattan, world and Olympic wrestling champion Jordan Burroughs found himself staring at something else: a check for $250,000.  So did teammate Jake Varner. The two cashed in on a promise by the Living the Dream Medal Fund to award a quarter million dollars to any American wrestler who won gold in London.

If either repeats at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, the Fund announced that it would double the payout to $500,000 for each back-to-back gold. Burroughs’ eyes widened, but he was already committed to continuing for another four years.

Also on Wednesday, Coleman Scott and Clarissa Chun each claimed $25,000 for earning bronze medals in London. They, too, hope to continue their wrestling careers for another four years.

To find out what all four medalists plan do with the heap of cash, what they’ve been doing since London, who thought meeting Paralympians was on a par with meeting the President, and which athlete would compete in the Winter Games (if the sport was right), read on.

Living the Dream
Jordan Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist
in 74 kg freestyle wrestling, earned $250,000 for the win.

JORDAN BURROUGHS: 2012 Olympic gold medalist in 74 kg freestyle

What will you do with your quarter-million dollar check?

Nothing, really. $250,000 isn’t enough to live off of.

What? Where do you live?

I live in Lincoln, Nebraska. Yes, 250,000 can go a long way but I might need to stretch it a little longer. I’m just 24, so hopefully I have a lot more winning to do and a lot more money to be made.

Have you competed since the London Olympics?

Not yet. I’ve been giving a lot of seminars, clinics, and doing appearances. I won’t compete until February. There are a bunch of meets around the world. The only one set so far is in Turkey.

Is there another Olympics in your future?

Oh, yeah. 2016 is set in my crosshairs. I’m just 24.

Now that you’re a gold medalist, what have you been doing since London?

It’s been cool. I’ve been signing a lot of autographs. I’ve thrown first pitches. I did one in Philly.  I was announced at a New York Jets game and at a Nebraska Cornhuskers game. I went to a sports legends dinner to raise money to cure paralysis [via the Buoniconti Fund] and met Lolo Jones and Shaquille O’Neal, Lisa Leslie, Marshall Faulk, Joe Torre. It was a ridiculous amount of names. I’m just a normal guy. I still feel like a fan.

Oh! I forgot about meeting the President. He said he watched me compete but I don’t know if I believed him. Also, I’d never really hung around Paralympic athletes till I went to DC. They were super-awesome. Wrestling isn’t a Paralympic sport, but I met Blake Leeper, a Paralympic sprinter [who claimed silver behind Oscar Pistorius in (T-44) 400m in London]. He was super cool. He reminded me a lot of myself: really down to earth, just normal. When you have people telling you you’re great, it kind of changes you. I’m still the same person.

Living the dream
Jake Varner, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in
96 kg freestyle wrestling, earned $250,000 for the win.
JAKE VARNER: 2012 Olympic gold medalist in 96 kg freestyle

How will you spend your quarter-million dollars for winning Olympic gold?

I’m not real sure yet. Maybe learn how to make more of it.

What have you been doing since the London Olympics?

I did a Cal State Bakersfield fundraiser. Their wrestling program was dropped a couple years ago. The school told them to raise their own money and they’ve been doing that. I spoke and answered questions at the dinner, and tried to encourage kids to keep going but I was not in their wrestling program; I wrestled for Iowa State and graduated in 2010. I also did a fundraiser for my high school, Bakersfield High in California. It was a silent auction for the wrestling team. They unveiled a banner of me to hang in the gym. I spoke and signed more autographs. When I spoke, I told them no dream is too big, no goal is too high. You make your own destiny. There will be losses. That’s part of it. But pick yourself up and move along.

Do you plan to compete in Rio 2016?

I’m not sure yet. I’m taking it day by day, just enjoying it. I’ll stayed involved one way or another. 

Living the Dream
Clarissa Chun, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist
in 48kg women's wrestling, earned $25,000 for the medal.
CLARISSA CHUN: 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in 48 kg women’s freestyle

What do you plan to with your $25,000?

Save it. It’s not a whole lot for me to splurge on things like a car. Maybe put it away or invest it in something useful. Or put it toward school. I already got my B.A. in communication at the U of Colorado in Colorado Springs in 2005. I could go back and get a Master’s. I’ve been thinking about a lot of [fields]. Maybe chiropractic school.

What have been the highlights for you since the London Olympics?

I went home Hawaii, all over Oahu, thanking the people that have supported me from when I was little to the day I competed in London. I started wrestling at 16.  [I’m 31 now.] It was all the coaches throughout my life – not just wrestling but in judo, swimming, water polo, even bowling. 

Another highlight was meeting the President in Washington, D.C. I didn’t go to the White House in 2008 [after my first Olympics] because I had moved to Japan to teach English to kindergarteners. I told President Obama that I’m also from Hawaii and I went to school up the street from you; I’m a public school girl. He smiled and we laughed about it. And First Lady Michelle Obama even remembered me. We met her in London.

Do you want to compete in Rio in 2016? It would be your third Olympics.

I still have intentions to compete in Rio. That’s the goal, but I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus day to day, year to year, and listen to my body. I don’t want to force it. I’m definitely still hungry and excited to compete. If I could compete in every Olympics until the day I die, I would. I just love the whole Olympic movement and the whole spirit. If I could think of a winter sport, I would do that too. [What about curling?] Everyone says that!  But I’m not too skilled with the broom.

Living the Dream
Coleman Scott, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist
in 60 kg freestyle wrestling, earned $25,000 for the medal.
COLEMAN SCOTT: 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in 60 kg freestyle

What do you plan to do with your $25,000 check?

I’ll save it, probably for my daughter’s education. She’s 17 months old. Her name is Leighton. She’s my first and only child. She didn’t come to London, though.  She stayed in Oklahoma City with my mother-in-law.

What have you been doing since the London Olympics?

Camps! I also did some clinics in Alaska and Hawaii with little kids all the way up through high school age. I also hung out in Oklahoma City living the dream. Now the dream is gold in Rio. I’ll probably start competing again in January or February. I’ll stay in the same weight class.

Has the Olympic bronze medal changed your life?

Of course. Money changes it, too. I make my money coaching, and now I make more of it so it’s made my life a lot easier. I coach at Oklahoma State; I graduated there in 2008. They have their first official tournament this weekend (Nov. 17-18). It’s an open tournament; anybody can come.

You know, winning’s contagious. I hope I can share or bring the team something to give them an extra edge to win us a national title. Oklahoma State has already won 34 national titles. It’s the most winning collegiate program ever. [It’s true. The program with the second-most national titles in a single sport is USC’s track team with 26.]

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

Related Athletes

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Jordan Burroughs

Freestyle Wrestling
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Jake Varner