South Jersey native Jordan Burroughs favored in Olympic wrestling

Freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs poses for a portrait at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 in Dallas. (AP Photo/Victoria Will)
Freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs poses for a portrait at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 in Dallas. (AP Photo/Victoria Will)
Posted: July 24, 2012

JORDAN BURROUGHS probably will have a book or two written about him someday, but he can sum up his own wrestling career in 140 characters or less. Burroughs' Twitter address: @alliseeisgold. Its listed location: "On top of the Podium." His mantra? Wrestle … Win … Repeat.

As the Olympic Games open this weekend in London, the Sicklerville, N.J., native is the favorite in freestyle wrestling at 74 kilograms (about 163 pounds). But Burroughs is not seeking to merely win a gold medal. He wants to become the face of American wrestling for years to come.

The United States has a longstanding tradition of excellence in freestyle wrestling. At least one American has taken home the gold in freestyle wrestling in every Olympic Games the United States has participated in dating to 1972. But over the last 2 decades, the rigors of year-round training and international competition appear to have cut American wrestlers' careers shorter and shorter. No American has elected to defend his gold medal at a second Olympic Games since 1996. Since then, every American champion has retired after earning the sport's highest honor.

Burroughs, who turned 24 earlier this month, wants to break that trend.

"I think that's what our sport needs," he said. "A lot of guys get out of wrestling immediately after winning a gold medal. Every time another Olympics comes around, it's always a bunch of fresh faces. For me to win an Olympic gold and have a chance to win another would be huge for our sport. Hopefully it will put us back into the mainstream media. Wrestling is a great sport, and I just want the world and the country to know that."

Becoming the first American wrestler to win back-to-back gold medals in freestyle wrestling since John Smith accomplished the feat at 62 kilograms in 1988 and '92 will have to wait. First, Burroughs must concentrate on standing atop the podium in London, something he has dreamed of since he began wrestling at the age of 6. It was a dream that at times seemed out of reach.

While wrestling for Winslow Township High School, Burroughs posted a 115-20 career record and won the state championship at 135 pounds in his senior season of 2006. Despite these accomplishments, Burroughs was not highly recruited out of high school. Jonathan Johnson, who coached Burroughs at the club level with RAW 241, described Burroughs as "good but not great" in high school. He received scholarship offers from just three schools before ultimately deciding to wrestle at the University of Nebraska.

Burroughs lost his first wrestle-off to a Nebraska teammate, 13-6. He did not do much losing after that.

Johnson attributes Burroughs' elevated success at the college level to the coaching he received from the Cornhuskers' Mark Manning. Burroughs had the physical tools but was finally developing strategy on the mat instead of simply overpowering opponents. His brains and brawn proved to be a lethal combination.

"What made him great was that he bought into a style. When you buy into a style, you can actually game plan," Johnson said. "Having a philosophy and an approach changes how you train, and Jordan's approach was dominant."

During his freshman season, Burroughs gained strength and agility, ultimately moving him into a higher weight class. By his sophomore year, he posted a 34-6 regular-season record, captured a Big 12 title and placed third at the NCAA championships. By his third season as a Cornhusker, he was a national champion at 157 pounds and a first-team All-America.

Then in his senior season, the wheels fell off. Burroughs was dominant and undefeated in his first seven matches before tearing two ligaments in his left knee in a match against Central Michigan's Steve Brown. Burroughs finished the match in immense pain, dropping a 3-2 overtime decision and snapping a streak of 44 consecutive wins.

After receiving a medical redshirt from the NCAA, Burroughs spent 9 months off the wrestling mat and defied all odds. Burroughs didn't just rehab his surgically repaired knee and return to the mat — he was a better wrestler than he ever was before the injury.

"That year off made me hungry again. I had really become complacent with where I was in my career after my first national title. Coming back was huge for me, I was more dominant than I had ever been in my career," Burroughs said. "It was a blessing in disguise. It definitely helped me to get to this point because that year was when I developed that fire and newfound love for the sport."

Burroughs finished a perfect 36-0 in 2011. He didn't just win a second national championship, this time at 165 pounds, he coasted through the competition, leaving three Top 10 opponents in his wake and capturing the Hodge Trophy, college wrestling's highest honor.

Riding high after his second national championship, Burroughs shifted his focus to international competition and the 2012 Olympics, which meant learning a new style. After competing his entire life wrestling folkstyle in the United States, he had to learn the international sport of freestyle wrestling.

This transition is a difficult one for most, but not for Jordan Burroughs. In more than a year of competition, he has never lost a match wrestling freestyle and won the gold medal at the 2011 world championships.

"Over the last year, he has learned what it takes to go from folkstyle to freestyle," said Zeke Jones, head freestyle coach for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team and 1992 silver medalist, said. "Some of the skills and tactics and rules are different, and he has learned how to master those."

Burroughs understands that his journey, for both himself and the future of his sport, begins in London. Although it's easy to become distracted with the plans he has mapped out for his career, at the Olympics he has been forced to prioritize.

For now, all he sees is gold. Everything else will follow.

"I'm excited. I've wanted this opportunity for a long time. I'm super-focused on my goal; it's easy to get caught up in all the hype of being a professional athlete," Burroughs said. "My one and only focus at the Olympic Games is to win a gold medal. I have a whole country behind me and I'm ready to go out and win it."


2012 OLYMPIC FREESTYLE WRESTLING SCHEDULE

At the ExCeL arena, London

Friday, Aug. 10

Men's 55kg and 74kg: qualifications, 1/8 finals, quarterfinals, semifinals, 11 a.m.-noon (NBC Sports Network)

Men's 55kg and 74kg: repechage rounds, 1:30-2:30 (MSNBC)

Men's bronze- and gold-medal contests, 2:45-4 p.m. (Channel 10)

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