|Adeline Gray celebrates winning gold at Senior World Wrestling Championship on Sept. 11, 2014 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.|
Excuse Adeline Gray if she’s a little tired right now.
First, the 23-year-old wrestler fought through a very tough draw to win her second career title at the recent Senior World Wrestling Championship in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Then she flew to Alaska the long way around — through Germany and San Francisco to Anchorage — instead of taking the much shorter route east. She spent more than 24 hours on a plane (not counting layovers). Now she’s spending some well-deserved R&R with her boyfriend, who’s in the military, before he’s deployed.
“I went the other way around, which is silly,” she said, laughing.
But in both Tashkent and her travels, Gray wound up right where she wanted to be — even if it took plenty of work to get there.
Gray won five consecutive matches in her 75-kilogram (165 pounds) freestyle class to claim the gold, which matches the one she won at the 2012 world championships. She also has bronze medals from the 2013 and 2011 world tournaments.
To take the championship, Gray — who entered the event ranked fourth in the world (but had been No. 1 earlier this year) — had to come back from deficits in three of her matchups. But it was her first, an 11-10 decision over Zhou Qian of China, that was the toughest.
Zhou built a 9-2 lead before Gray turned the tables. Gray scored a takedown, a succession of leg laces and a two-point move with six seconds remaining to get the win and the right to advance.
“I think that could have been the finals match,” Gray said. “She was my best match by far. A very, very strong girl that I plan on seeing in the future.”
Even before she stepped onto the mat with Zhou — who would win bronze — Gray knew she was in for a fight. She lost to Chinese wrestlers in both 2011 and 2013, and each of those opponents went on to earn the world title.
“The Chinese girls come out fighting,” said Gray, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was a standout wrestler at Bear Creek High School in Denver. “No matter what girl they put in, it seems she’s a tough one.”
Gray admits it’s “never a good situation to be down by that many points,” but says all her experience and training allowed her to keep grinding. Often in practices, she and her teammates will be put in positions where they’re told they’re down by several points with very little time left. Because she’s succeeded in those situations, she didn’t panic.
“It just takes one takedown for me to get back in the match,” she said.
Gray then beat Turkey’s Yasemin Adar by fall, outpointed world No. 2 Hiroe Suzuki of Japan 2-1, topped Epp Mae of Estonia 5-1 and then defeated Brazil’s Aline da Silva 2-1 in the final.
Gray said she knew she was going to have a tough time winning a second world championship when she saw the brackets. Because there is no seeding in the tournament, the brackets are put together by blind draw. She looked at her side of the bracket the night before her opening match and recognized far too many good opponents. That’s when she told herself to take it match by match.
“But it was crazy to be looking at my bracket and go, ‘Oh my goodness, this is going to be one heck of a day!’” she said.
But after beating da Silva, she said this championship felt extra special because it was achieved after an “uphill battle.”
She also took a lot of satisfaction from the fact that the U.S. team took third place overall. She believes the United States is gradually climbing the ladder in wrestling, closing in on second-place Russia — but still with plenty of work to do to overcome Japan.
The whole experience of being in Uzbekistan for the championships was memorable, she said. First, wrestling is popular there and the fans were enthusiastic.
“You walk around and people are pulling at your ears, like, ‘Oh, cauliflower ear, like you must wrestle,’” she recalled.
And second, a large number of the team got sick before they wrestled, including Gray. She jokes they called it “The Taskent Plague.”
Fortunately by the time it was her day to compete, she just had a sore throat and a little congestion.
“I was good enough to win, and that’s all that matters,” she said.
Now with her second world title, Gray has an extra bit of momentum going toward the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. Gray lost in the finals of the Olympic Trials in 2012 at 63 kilograms to Elena Pirozhkova, a past world champion and multi-international medalist in a match that she said was as tough as any match she’s ever had.
She’s hopeful this time around of competing in a heavier weight class and being successful in both making the U.S. team and perhaps medaling.
She can even dream a bit of getting a medal like the one she just earned in Tashkent.
“We don’t have an Olympic gold medal,” she said of the U.S. women. “So I’m really looking forward to hopefully being that first one.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.