Days like this aren’t supposed to happen to champions like Jordan Burroughs.
The ultra-confident, competitive and charismatic wrestler with the Twitter handle @alliseeisgold always delivered when the stakes were highest.
Burroughs entered the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a mind-blowing resume filled with incredible achievements.
A 2012 Olympic gold medal. Three world titles and a world bronze medal. A combined 24-1 record in Olympic and world competition. Just two losses in six international seasons.
But then the unthinkable happened. The heavily favored and top-ranked Burroughs lost back-to-back matches on the same day and failed to medal in the 74 kg. Olympic freestyle competition on Aug. 19 in Rio.
“It was a bad day to have a bad day,” he said recently.
The 28-year-old Burroughs dropped a 3-2 quarterfinal decision to Russia’s Aniuar Geduev and then was unable to regroup in losing by a stunning 11-1 technical fall to Uzbekistan’s Bekzod Abdurakhmonov in the repechage.
He came up one win short of reaching the bronze-medal match.
Devastated in defeat, Burroughs broke down and became emotional with tears streaming down his face.
“Looking back now, I obviously didn’t wrestle my best,” he said. “It stings. It still hurts to this day. It’s hard to even think about or talk about the Olympics. It was really rough.”
Determined to bounce back from the disappointing Olympic performance, Burroughs has resumed training and plans to return to competition in the Freestyle World Cup on Feb. 16-17 in Tehran, Iran. He announced his return on Twitter, where he has more than 163,000 followers.
“I’m not done yet,” Burroughs posted on Jan. 2. “Feels so good to be back!”
Burroughs has been a dominant force for the United States in previous World Cups, never losing a match in the dual-meet event that features the top international teams on the planet.
“I obviously didn’t accomplish my goals at the Olympics, and I feel like I still have the fire to compete,” he said. “I feel like I still have more to give. I’m 28, and I still feel relatively young.”
Burroughs hadn’t lost a match in nearly two years when he faced the powerful Geduev in the 2016 Games. Burroughs had beaten the Russian the previous year en route to winning a world title in Las Vegas.
“I didn’t wrestle with the fire and intensity I typically have,” he said. “I wasn’t as aggressive and bold as I usually am. Everything went wrong, and I couldn’t get into the flow of the match.”
Burroughs still had a chance to regroup and win a bronze medal in Rio.
“For me, it was gold or bust,” he said. “It was all a blur when I lost. I couldn’t get mentally prepared and re-set to wrestle Bekzod. I wasn’t excited to wrestle again. I wanted to win, and I wanted to come back and win a medal, it just didn’t happen.”
Burroughs took two months off after Rio. He had more time to spend with his wife, Lauren, and their two children at their home in Lincoln, Nebraska. They have a 2-year-old son, Beacon, and a daughter, Ora, who was born this past June.
“The time off helped me gain perspective,” Burroughs said. “My identity was wrapped up in my success on the mat. I didn’t accomplish my goals — I had never experienced a great loss like that. It was a shot at your ego and your pride.
“It was tough to take, but everything I went through strengthened my faith and I became closer to my family.”
Being back in the wrestling room has rekindled Burroughs’ desire to be the best again.
“I’m excited to get back and compete again,” he said. “I love wrestling, and I still enjoy it. I want to see what I have left.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to do it, but I know I can still be successful. One day doesn’t define me.”
Burroughs returned to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just after the calendar flipped to 2017 to take part in a national team freestyle training camp.
With bone-chilling temperatures in the single digits outside, Burroughs was back inside the steamy OTC wrestling room preparing for a season he hopes will end on top of the world championships podium this summer in Paris.
“Obviously, I still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I still need to get better technically. I need to create that edge and that hunger for victory. And make sure my mindset is strong.”
Burroughs will be tested at next month’s World Cup in Iran, a country with a long and storied tradition of success in wrestling. He wrestled in Iran at the 2013 World Cup and was treated like a rock star after he had won the 2011 world championships and 2012 Olympic gold medal.
“It was sweet — it was so much fun to wrestle in Iran,” he said. “They love wrestling and they love champions. It was a great atmosphere to wrestle in. The fans are very passionate and knowledgeable. I can’t wait to compete there again. I thought it was good timing for me to make my return in that event.”
Burroughs will be part of a strong American team that will compete in Iran.
“I’ve never won the World Cup as a team member,” he said. “We have an amazing squad, and I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Burroughs is now 130-4 in his international wrestling career, but his last two bouts were defeats. The World Cup will be his first competition in nearly six months.
“One day doesn’t define me,” he said, once again referencing his setback in Rio. “I have some redemption to do for what happened at the Olympics. I’m ready to come back strong.”