Sicklerville's Burroughs focused on wrestling gold

Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs (right) beat Oklahoma's Tyler Caldwell for an NCAA crown in 2011.
Nebraska's Jordan Burroughs (right) beat Oklahoma's Tyler Caldwell for an NCAA crown in 2011. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff)
Posted: August 09, 2012

LONDON - Jordan Burroughs doesn't talk about what might happen if he wins an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling Friday afternoon.

In a 25-minute chat with reporters Tuesday at the University of East London training facility, Burroughs talked about "when I win" and what he'll do "after I win this."

The 24-year-old from Sicklerville, N.J., is not exactly lacking for confidence. He is driven to make some kind of mark on the world, and wrestling is the medium he has chosen. It is a sport in need of stars, and Burroughs has volunteered himself as the remedy.

"I arrived at it by default," he said. "I was a world champion last year. I was the two-time NCAA champion. I think I have a lot of charisma, a lot of personality, pretty good looking - a little bit. I'm just happy to have this opportunity. I think I'm good for the sport. I want to win, and I can win."

If he wins - sorry, when he wins - it has a chance to be a life-changing event for this working-class kid.

"I was never given anything," Burroughs said. "I was never the best growing up. Everything I ever had, I earned. I had to work for it. I was only a one-time state champion [at Winslow Township] high school. Wasn't ever rich growing up. So every cent earned, scholarship earned, every win I've earned, I had to work hard for."

It hasn't been easy. After spending his entire life in South Jersey, Burroughs found himself in Lincoln, Neb., as a scared, lonely 18-year-old.

"It sucked, man," Burroughs said. "I remember sitting in my dorm room crying on multiple occasions. I was like, man, I want to go home. I never spent more than a week or two away from home as a kid. I missed my family. My mom did everything for me, did my laundry and cooked and cleaned for me. Once I got to college, I was on my own. I had to become a man thousands of miles away from home. It was a tough transition, but I think it was good for my career."

He embarked on a remarkably single-minded mission to be the best wrestler in the world in the 163-pound class.

"I sacrificed fun, sacrificed girlfriends to be the best wrestler in the world," Burroughs said. "I haven't spent Thanksgiving or my birthday with my family in six years. It's super tough. It's a lot of sacrifices, but it's all worth it on days like this."

There was one more obstacle - three, actually, but they were all bunched up in one terrible month. Within three weeks in December 2009, Burroughs cracked two molars in a match, requiring two root canals; his grandfather in New Jersey died, and then he tore up his left knee during a match.

"So in three weeks, two cracked molars, funeral for my grandpa, tore my LCL and PCL," Burroughs said. "The toughest month of my life, the toughest three weeks ever."

He said he talked to other athletes who'd had knee surgery.

"They told me I'd never be as fast, never be as strong," Burroughs said. "I still have screws in my knee now. I rehabbed so hard, my left knee is actually stronger than my good knee. I've still got a little bit of steel in there."

Burroughs is all the way back - and then some. He won consecutive NCAA titles. Last September, in Istanbul, he won the world championship. Overall, he has a 40-match winning streak.

And all of that, he knows, is just a preamble to Friday's competition.

"This is the pinnacle," Burroughs said. "I win this, I've won everything there is to win in wrestling."

It has been a long wait. He won the world title 11 months ago, clinched his spot on the Olympic team four months ago. By the time he actually gets to wrestle an opponent, it will be two weeks since he walked in the opening ceremonies.

The U.S. team actually left London for a week of training in Belarus.

"It was good for us to get away from all the craziness in the [Olympic] village," said Burroughs, who has tweeted photos of himself posing with other U.S. athletes.

Given his competitive nature, and his eagerness to make his mark, you'd think the wait might be troubling for Burroughs. But he said that, other than the food in Belarus, things have gone well.

He feels ready for his big moment.

"This is the most relaxed I've ever been before a tournament," Burroughs said. "I don't feel any pressure right now. I have the biggest opportunity of my life ahead of me, but I know I've prepared as hard as I could. I know everything is in place. I feel as though, if I wrestle my best, there's nobody in the world that can beat me."

If he wins - sorry, after he wins - there could be endorsement money and some crossover fame. Who knows? If Apolo Anton Ohno, Shawn Johnson, and Kristi Yamaguchi can all win Dancing With the Stars, why not Burroughs? An Olympic gold medal is quite the calling card.

But it's what the medal represents that drives Burroughs.

"There are plenty of rich people in the world," he said. "There are only a few Olympic champions. It was never about the recognition for me. It was never about fame or stardom or money. It's about the thrill of being the best in the world."


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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