Sicklerville's Burroughs eyes gold in Greco-Roman wrestling

Posted: August 08, 2012

LONDON — Jordan Burroughs already mapped out the fastest route from the wrestling mat through the ExCel Arena stands, where he plans to hug his parents after winning a gold medal on Friday.

As Burroughs continued checking the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestlers' results online during the past week, the reigning 74kg world champion freestyle wrestler said he's ready to have the gold medal placed around his neck. He's already stated the rules: No one will be allowed to touch it and he's never going to take it off.

The former Sicklerville, N.J., prep star smiled at reporters before Tuesday's practice and said he's never felt more at ease before a competition than now. The sleepless nights he had before the Olympic Trials while he stayed up watching film and listening to music are behind him. After returning from a weeklong training trip in Belarus with his teammates, Burroughs is champing at the bit for Friday's Olympic debut.

"I don't feel any pressure right now. I feel at peace," he said. "I have the biggest opportunity in my life ahead of me but I know I've prepared as hard as I could. Everything is in place. I didn't leave any stone unturned."

As Burroughs rolled around on the mat inside the gymnasium and did his stretches, cartwheels and warmup exercises, he wore a self-made "I've got a Burroughs double" white T-shirt with his picture on it. It's part of his marketing strategy to try to showcase his powerful double leg takedown in hopes of gaining as much notoriety for himself and his sport.

Burroughs said he had a lot of time to game-plan for his matches during the past week in Belarus and said the secluded training trip was just what he needed. While larger meal portions and a larger TV would have been welcomed, he said he knows his weight is fine and his body feels "great."

Setting the tone for the freestyle wrestlers is important for Burroughs, as he is in one of two weight classes that wrestles on Friday. The 24-year-old world champion said watching teammates succeed at Worlds helped him believe he could do the same, and he looks to repay the favor this time around.

"The biggest threat is myself. If I go out there and wrestle as I wrestle here in the practice room and in training, I'm unbeatable," he said. "I feel like I'm like wine, just getting better with time."

Controlling his own destiny has been on Burroughs' mind since he was a kid and he watched his father wake up a 5 a.m. to attend his job as a construction worker. Whether it was zero degrees or 100, Burroughs said his dad was at work, reminding his son that there was more to life than a grueling day job.

"He always told me, ‘You don't want to live this life. You want to be your own boss, be able to make your own goals and your own choices,'?" Jordan recalled. "Right now I control my own destiny and whether or not I'll be famous or be rich depends how I wrestle on Friday."

It took approximately 6 years of birthdays and Thanksgivings away from his family and several days of crying in his dorm room at the University of Nebraska, where he was a three-time All-America, for Burroughs to understand that he'd have to sacrifice nearly everything if he wanted to be the best.

"I always told myself and my family that I would sacrifice fun and even sacrifice seeing them to be the best in the world, so it's a lot of sacrifices that I had to create, but it's all worth it on days like this," he said. "I've sacrificed fun, sacrificed girlfriends, sacrificed family to be the best wrestler in the world."

The plan was always to be the best at whatever sport he was playing, and even two cracked molars, two root canals, the death of his grandfather and two torn ligaments in his knee in a 3-week span in 2009 weren't enough to stop him.

The screws in his left knee are a reminder of how far he's come since the day he feared his wrestling career was over. Burroughs wondered if he'd ever have the speed and strength to get back to top form, but rehabbed the knee so hard that he likes to says it is now stronger than his right knee.

Burroughs speaks as if he knows he's going to be on the top of the podium on Friday after putting four or five of his toughest matches together. The phrase "when I win" comes out of his mouth without hesitation, and he hopes that will bring more endorsements and publicity.

But that's not what drives him as he wipes the sweat from his brow between a practice match and technique work.

"It was never about the recognition for me. It was never about the fame, the stardom or the money," he said. "It's always been about the thrill of being the best in the world. Even if I win this world championship I chose the wrong sport if I wanted to be a millionaire. ... There are a lot of rich people in the world but there are very few Olympic champions."

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