Jordan Burroughs is headed to London as the face of American wrestling.
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Still, the reigning world freestyle champion would have much rather earned the spot on the mat than by default.
Burroughs headlined the list of wrestlers who claimed spots Saturday night on the U.S. team headed to the London Olympics, winning the 74-kilogram freestyle spot when opponent Andrew Howe defaulted because of a knee injury at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.
Burroughs is considered by many to be the best chance the U.S. has for an Olympic gold medal.
”It was kind of anti-climactic. You know, it (stinks). I didn’t want it to end this way. I’m happy to be on the team, my main goal was to be on this team coming into this tournament, and I did that,” Burroughs said.
World bronze medalist Jake Varner, 37-year-old Greco-Roman heavyweight Dremiel Byers, Justin Lester, Spenser Mango and Chas Betts also earned Olympic bids.
Women’s wrestlers Stephany Lee and Kelsey Campbell upset top seeds to earn spots on the U.S. team.
Burroughs got all he could handle from Howe in their only match, winning 4-2, 1-2, 1-0. Burroughs said he wanted to win by dominating the second match of the best-of-three championship series, but national freestyle coach Zeke Jones pulled him aside to break the good news – though it didn’t feel that way at first to Burroughs.
USA wrestling officials weren’t immediately able to say which knee Howe injured.
”I wrestled OK. My fitness level was decent. He’s a tough guy, but I wrestled six minutes and grinded it out,” Burroughs said.
Varner, a former two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State, beat Tommy Rowlands 2-0, 1-0 to reach the Olympics for the first time in 96 kg freestyle. Varner, like Burroughs, will carry high expectations to London.
”It’s not going to stop here. It’s not about being an Olympian, it’s about going out and achieving your goals and being an Olympic champion,” Varner said.
Betts, 25, won in two straight matches over fellow Minnesotan Jordan Holm, who fell one win shy of a remarkable comeback.
Holm, a former wrestler at Northern Iowa, was convicted of third-degree sexual abuse in 2003 following an incident after a party following a Hawkeyes home football game in 2002. Holm spent 6 1/2 years in prison before being released in April 2010.
Holm, who is appealing his conviction and has a website devoted to proving his innocence, finished second in the 2011 Pan-American Championships, the World Team Trials in 2011 and now the Olympic Trials.
”I’m very thankful I’ve been able to stay who I am. I’m the same person I was 10 years ago as far as my motivation level, and my commitment to the sport hasn’t changed,” Holm said. ”Injustice is real tough to deal with, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to return to the sport.”
Byers won in Greco-Roman heavyweight over wildcard Steve Andrus, reaching his second straight Olympics after failing to medal in Beijing in 2008. Byers might have been an afterthought as former champion Rulon Gardner attempted his failed comeback bid, but the lack of attention never bothered Byers.
”I never let that affect me. If you’re going to bring it, bring it. That’s what I expected and it didn’t happen that way,” Byers said.
Mango beat Max Nowry in 55 kg Greco-Roman and Lester, who finished third at the Trials in 2008, beat C.P Schlatter 2-0, 1-2, 1-0 in 66 kg Greco-Roman.
Campbell erupted in tears as the third period ended and the upset win over favorite Helen Maroulis in 55 kg was secured.
Lee, a native of Honolulu, said her father Stuart still hasn’t gotten his passport because he was waiting for her to clinch a spot in London. She did just that, stunning 2008 Olympian Ali Bernard 3-1, 6-0 in 72 kg.
”He’s like `Give me a reason to get my passport. I want results.’ So, there are the results,” Lee said.
Coleman Scott won the Trials title in 60 kg freestyle. But the U.S. hasn’t qualified for a spot in London in that weight class yet, so Scott would have to get past favorites Reece Humphrey and Shawn Bunch at another tournament – should the U.S. even earn an Olympic spot in that class – to go to London.
The morning session drew 13,520 and roughly 200 more showed up for the night one, shattering the previous high crowd for the Trials set in Dallas 12 years ago.
They seemed mildly stunned when it was announced Burroughs was the winner by default. But they quickly started cheering the former University of Nebraska star, who will need some time to truly appreciate his first Olympic bid.
”I’ve just got to let it sink in. I’ll never forget this,” Burroughs said. ”For the rest of my life, I’ll always remember I had that second match that wasn’t wrestled.”