Jacarra Winchester celebrates after winning a match at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships on Sep. 18, 2019.
A 2016 Olympic champion led the charge toward Tokyo on Saturday.
Helen Maroulis, who was out for more than a year while recovering from injuries, was one of four U.S. women’s freestyle wrestlers to reach the finals of the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier on Saturday in Ottawa, Ontario. The four will compete for tournament championships later in the day, but just by reaching the final each locked down a 2020 Olympic quota spot in her weight class for Team USA.
The U.S. now has quota spots in all six Olympic classes in women’s freestyle.
In addition to Maroulis securing a quota spot at 57 kg., others earning quota spots in Ottawa were Sarah Hildebrandt at 50 kg., Jacarra Winchester at 53 kg., and Kayla Miracle at 62 kg.
The U.S. was already qualified at 68 kg. and 76 kg. due to gold medals won by Tamyra Mensah-Stock and Adeline Gray at the 2019 world championships.
The athletes who will fill those quotas will be determined at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which were originally scheduled for next month in Pennsylvania but have postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Maroulis’ performance was a strong sign in her comeback in hopes of making a second U.S. Olympic Team. In 2016, she became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling, and that was sandwiched between two world titles. However, in the following years she’s battled injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, and until last month she hadn’t wrestled since the 2018 world championships.
On Saturday, she clinched a quota spot with a dominant 11-0 win over Nes Marie Rodriguez Tirado of Puerto Rico in the semifinals. Among her wins earlier in the day was a 12-2 win over Canada’s Linda Morais, a 2019 world champion in the 59 kg. class.
Also cruising into the finals and securing an Olympic quota spot with a dominant win in the semifinals was Hildebrandt, a 2019 Pan American Games gold medalist and four-time Pan Am Championships gold medalist who is seeking to make her first Olympic team. Hildebrandt moved down from 53 kg. to 50 kg. for the Olympic year.
Hildebrandt pumped her arms and quickly broke into a smile after her 11-0 semifinal victory over Jessica MacDonald of Canada.
Miracle, who won a gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Games, scored a takedown just before the buzzer to finish off a 12-3 semifinal win against Canada’s Michelle Fazzari.
Winchester, the defending world champion at the non-Olympic weight of 55 kg., moved down a weight class to 53 kg. and reached the finals with an 8-4 win over Canada’s Samantha Stewart in the semifinals.
Including the four Olympic quotas won in Greco-Roman on Friday and two men’s freestyle quotas earned at the 2019 world championships, the U.S. is now qualified in 12 Olympic classes. U.S. wrestlers will go after another four quota spots in men’s freestyle on Sunday.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic and Paralympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.