|Jordan Burroughs poses with his 74 kg. gold medal at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships on Sept. 12, 2015 in Las Vegas.|
LAS VEGAS -- In preparing to compete at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships, Jordan Burroughs read a book – fittingly called “How Champions Think” – that said champions should smile before doing anything strenuous or challenging because it has a positive impact on their attitude and approach.
So he smiled on Saturday. All day.
He smiled through all six rounds of men’s 74 kg. freestyle wrestling en route to winning his third world championship title.
“You really can’t put this moment into perspective,” he said. “This is what you dream of. I’m 27 years old, so a lot of dreams that I’ve had did not come true. I’ve been a little bit beaten up by life and understand that everything you aspire to be isn’t always possible, but today I’m a world champion.”
He said he smiled more than he ever had in a single day of his life.
“My family is here, my son gets to see me compete. I’m in Vegas, the crowd’s chanting ‘U-S-A,’” Burroughs said after the semifinal.
He had every reason to smile. He was dominant throughout the day, winning six matches en route to the title and only surrendering five points to his 45 scored.
The win was his fourth world crown in five years, including the Olympic gold medal he earned at the 2012 Games in London. With his latest victory, Burroughs became one of only three U.S. wrestlers to win four combined world or Olympic gold medals.
Bruce Baumgartner has five world titles, three from world championships and two from the Olympics, all won between 1984-1995. John Smith has six, four from world championships and two from the Olympics, won each year from 1987-1992.
“I’m in elite company now,” he lamented. “There’s Burroughs, Smith and Baumgartner. Those names are set in a standard amongst themselves, so when I think of the Mount Rushmore of wrestling, I definitely can say I’m on it.”
And he plans to be front and center on that mountain, with sights now set on surpassing Smith in a few years’ time.
“I try to set profound goals,” Burroughs explained. “I want to catch John Smith. I’m getting close. I’m on him.”
The four-time world champ mark is one Burroughs hoped to accomplish at last year’s world championships in Uzbekistan, but an injury suffered during the competition thwarted his plans.
Burroughs sprained his MCL in his first-round match and wrestled the remainder of the tournament with a wrapped left leg, falling 9-2 in the semifinal to Russian Denis Tsargush, the eventual champion. Burroughs earned bronze, bringing his near spotless international record to 92-2 at the time.
The New Jersey native was more determined than ever to return to the top of the podium this year.
“Last year was an extremely tough year for me, losing to Tsargush in the semis, and a lot of people forgot about what I was capable of,” Burroughs said. “But I always knew that I still had it within me.”
Burroughs, whose Twitter handle is @alliseeisgold, tweeted a meme of Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone” with the words “This is my house. I have to defend it,” before the world championships.
While he has prided himself on improving technically year over year, his biggest area of improvement since his bronze medal last year was the intangible: concentration and focus.
He struggled to excel at all of the new responsibilities on his plate: He married Lauren Mariacher in October 2013; they had their first son, Beacon, in July 2014; he became assistant coach at University of Nebraska in 2014 – all while continuing to train and compete with the goal of being the best in the world.
“This past year was the hardest year of my life – being a married man, having a son, getting into coaching, and so it was really trying in terms of me staying focused to be the best wrestler in the world, to be the best husband in the world, as well as the best father.”
Burroughs said he found the right balance through the support of those around him, plus a lot of prayer. And it paid off when he saw his near-flawless record extend to 114-2 with his fourth world title.
“I smiled a lot today and I was a very happy man,” Burroughs said. “That perspective has really helped me to engage in the process, understanding that we don’t always get these opportunities. This could be the last time I’m here having this press conference, but I’m here, and as of Sept. 12, 2015 I’m a four-time world champion.”
Burroughs noted he is almost to the peak of his wrestling ability and that, before long, he’ll be on a downslide. But while he’s still very much a part of Team USA, he’s hoping to help pass the torch to the future superstars of the sport, including James Green.
The similarities between Burroughs and Green are uncanny. They both hail from South Jersey, they both went to college – and still train – at Nebraska, they share similar wrestling styles and wrestle at similar weights.
It’s no wonder Green, 22, won 70 kg. bronze Saturday night at his world championships debut.
“We’re young African Americans from South Jersey, we didn’t really have much,” Burroughs said. “James’ dad passed away when he was a kid and now he’s gone from never winning an NCAA championship to being third in the world and really creating a lot of opportunities for himself financially and just figuratively. …
“When I see him, he kind of reminds me of where I was in 2011, so to have that guy on the team, to have him follow in my footsteps, step out of my shadow and do his own thing, it’s great.”
Another young gun who has impressed Burroughs is 19-year-old Kyle Snyder, who became USA Wrestling’s youngest world champion in history on Friday. Snyder was Burroughs’ roommate at a training camp in June.
“Those young guys are my idols,” he said. “Those guys have ben successful because they’re uninhibited by anxiety, pressure, expectations. No one expected those guys to come out here and do what they did. …
“Just listening to (Snyder) talk and how much he loves the sport, how he followed everything that (high performance director) Pete Roselli told him to do. Everyone in this country, from a wrestling standpoint, needs to take that kind of approach to the sport. He did absolutely everything right. He went to bed on time, he ate well, he wrestled hard, he trained hard, he was coachable. … Those guys are busting their butts doing the extra, and that’s why those guys are going home with hardware.”
That hardware from the men’s freestyle wrestlers was part of a record haul for Team USA at these world championships, the first ones held on U.S. soil since 2003.
Factoring in the medals from the women’s freestyle team and Greco-Roman team, the U.S. captured seven medals, its highest total since 2007. The four gold medals the team captured mark the most since it took home five in 1995.
Those numbers set up Team USA well for next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, where it will look to follow Burroughs’ example and see nothing but gold.