LAS VEGAS -- Adeline Gray is confident she is going to become Team USA’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist in women’s wrestling next year. And she has every reason to be.
Gray successfully defended her 75 kg. world title at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships Thursday night in Las Vegas.
“I was feeling pretty confident going into this year, I didn’t feel that anyone was capable of beating me,” she said of the pressure to defend last year’s win.
“Coming here, I made a pact with myself that I was really going to buckle down and do the same things consistently, and I was able to do that, and here I am, the world champion.”
Gray has now medaled at each of the past five world championships, taking gold in 2012, 2014 and 2015, and bronze in 2011 and 2013. She is the second American woman to achieve that feat, with Kristie Davis medaling from 1996-2000 (then competing as Kristie Stenglein and Kristie Marano). Gray is also now the second-most winningest U.S. women’s wrestler, with only Tricia Saunders taking more world titles (four from 1992-1999).
Gray could top both of those USA Wrestling legends by medaling at next year’s Rio Olympic Games. Women’s wrestling was added to the Olympic program in 2004 and neither Davis nor Saunders had the opportunity to compete, though Davis competed at all three Olympic Trials, falling short each time.
In three Games, U.S. women have won a silver and three bronze medals, but no gold.
“We need that Olympic gold medalist and I hope to be that first one for Team USA,” Gray said. “I don’t think there’s a girl out there that can beat me. It’s just about stepping out there on that mat and making sure that I’m disciplined enough to get my job done that day. As long as I stay healthy, I think I can win.”
The 24-year-old could also surpass Davis and Saunders’ world championships feats, with a little convincing.
“That’s up to (U.S. women’s head coach Terry Steiner) what he wants to do with me,” she said on the future of her career. “If he can talk me into staying in the sport, then I’ll win as many as he wants me to.”
Unlike other wrestlers, Gray’s coaching trajectory has been fairly straightforward. She was pulled into the sport at age 6 by her father and uncle, both of whom coached her through the first decade of her career until she moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Gray acknowledged after her win that some of the basic moves she learned from her dad at age 6 really do transfer over to her elite career.
But her current signature move, the leg lace, is attributed to Steiner. The lace scored her valuable points in all five of her matches in Vegas and was the hop topic of the night after her win.
“The lace is something that I’ve added to my repertoire in the last 2-3 years so it’s been a transition to have it,” said Gray, who only had four points scored on her the entire day. “The lace has been so dominant and no one’s been able to stop it, that I’ve been really going to that.”
Gray won the gold medal, 13-2, over Qian Zhou of China, whom she beat in the first round of the 2014 world championships in her closest match at that event, 11-10. In this year’s first round, Gray had her most dominant performance of the day, winning by technical superiority, 10-0, over Mongolia’s Naranchimeg Gelegjamts in a brief one minute, 24 seconds.
Gray’s victory came on a powerful night for the U.S. women, as Helen Maroulis took home her first world title at 55 kg. While their teammates all fell short of the medal rounds, with only one woman left to compete on Friday, Gray is confident the U.S. women’s squad is on the brink of greatness.
“We have the team. … We’re just missing those little pieces and so I think that we have some work to do over this next year and we’re going to come into the Olympics ready,” she said. “I’m excited for my team and we’re going to have more than one Olympic gold medalist next year.”
Gray and Maroulis have been two of the biggest advocates for women’s wrestling – and women’s sports in general – worldwide. Both are trying to grow participation in women’s wrestling and have become leaders in the movement to show young girls what they can achieve in the world of sports.
“There’s opportunities all across the board,” Gray said, noting that the mainstream women’s sports stars such as Serena Williams and Carli Lloyd aren’t the only successful female athletes. “USA Wrestling is a great example – an education fully covered, I live and train at the Olympic Training Center. I’m a professional athlete and I don’t think girls know that they have that option. …
“They can go to school and play a sport. They can go and dedicate themselves really hard and become a world champion at something they never even dreamed of. I want them to have that dream so it starts younger.”
For Gray, that dream started at age 6 and could end with Olympic gold at 25.