Women’s wrestling was introduced to the Pan American Games in 2003. Since then, competitors have been battling not only for medals but for respect for their sport. Thursday at Miguel Grau Coliseum at the Pan American Games Lima 2019, three more United States wrestlers added to that push for equal respect.
Sarah Hildebrandt dominated in the women’s 53 kg. final to secure the gold, and Whitney Conder outlasted her opponent to win gold in the women’s 50 kg. final. In the women’s freestyle 57 kg. final, Jenna Burkert lost a close match and claimed silver.
Hildebrandt squared off against Betzabeth Arguello of Venezuela. It didn’t take long for Hildebrandt to take control. She started with a simple takedown to score the first two points of the match. That takedown turned into a nightmare for Arguello, however, as Hildebrandt began to roll. And roll. And roll. Four consecutive gator rolls from Hildebrandt improved her score to 10-0, a win by technical superiority. The match hardly lasted a minute. In her three matches on Thursday, no one scored a point on Hildebrandt throughout her dominant path toward gold.
“This is the stuff you dream of,” Hildebrandt said. “Running with the flag behind my back as I took a lap took years and years of dreaming. Getting to experience this only makes me hungrier and more motivated. My confidence is riding high.”
The 50 kg. final pitted Conder against Yusneylis Guzman of Cuba. Conder came out as the aggressor. A reversal earned her two quick points and she followed that by pushing Guzman out of the field of play for two more. By the time the first period ended, Conder was already up 6-0.
In the second, Guzman finally responded with a takedown to score her first points of the day. Conder unleashed another reversal shortly after to improve her lead to 8-2. With 45 seconds left, Conder nearly ended the match with a pin. Guzman’s timely bridge prevented the immediate loss but only prolonged the inevitable. Conder took home the gold by decision, 10-2, for her second Pan Am Games gold medal.
“It’s amazing to get to compete for my country,” Conder said. “I was just ready to go today. My goal was to be stingy with points and keep pushing forward and keep going.”
Burkert was the last to compete for the U.S. in the 57 kg. final. Her opponent, Lissette Antes of Ecuador, set an unfavorable precedent early. Right out of the gate, she was smacking Burkert in the head and pulling her hair. This culminated in an eventual eye gauge from Antes in the second period that delayed competition while Burkert received treatment. Undeterred, Burkert fought on.
“I like to think of myself as an agent of chaos,” Burkert said. “As much as she thought she was in control of the chaos, I felt like I was more in control because I kept my composure. I’ve been wrestling for a long time. Had that been a younger version of myself, I might have gotten flustered and taken a bad shot. I was really happy that I stayed composed and didn’t take a risky shot.”
In the end, Antes outlasted Burkert. She pushed Burkert out of bounds twice to score her two points. She sat on that lead for the remainder of the match, bleeding the clock and handing Burkert the silver in a 2-1 decision.
Three medals, two of which were decisive golds, did plenty to bolster the reputation of women’s wrestling. For Hildebrandt, that makes the victory that much sweeter.
“It honestly makes me emotional,” Hildebrandt said. “Just getting the opportunity to help pave the way. To build upon what the women before me did and get to continue that on, not only for wrestling but for women. This is empowering for women. It’s an honor just to be a part of that and I’m grateful.”