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Jordan Burroughs chases U.S. Wrestling history, and one more Olympic gold

Published September 25th, 2018 by JB

The mumbly raps and crisp beat of Travis Scott's "Goosebumps" dissolve into an outro as Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs — two hours into a workout at the Palestra — catches his breath in his distinctive squat, his weight perfectly balanced on his toes.

Next up on Burroughs' workout playlist: Hailee Steinfeld's gushy pop hit "Starving."

Wait, what?

"If you look at my iPod, I've got so much different music," he says. "I think that it kind of describes me as a person, just being a chameleon to whatever particular environment that I'm in."

That chameleon nature comes not from nature but from nurture, the product of a decade and a half in which Burroughs, who just turned 30, has gone from a public school kid in Sicklerville, N.J., to a two-time national champion wrestler at the University of Nebraska, to the brink of making U.S. history.

If he wins another 74-kilogram (approximately 163 pounds) title at the world championships in October, Burroughs will tie John Smith for the most combined Olympic and world titles — six — ever won by an American.

His eyes light up when thinking about it, not just out of pride and anticipation but also because he has  maintained such humility that achieving something so monumental remains a little hard for him to believe. Like Travis Scott, he still gets goosebumps every time.

"The Most Titles In American History," he says, as if every word is capitalized. "That's crazy, bro."

He entered Brazil with a gold medal already in his trophy case — from London 2012 — and only two international losses in his career. He left without a second gold (or any other medal for that matter) and with four international losses.

"In preparation for Rio, I was thinking, 'OK, I'm already good enough to beat these guys, I've already beaten them all,' " he said.

Only once previously since graduating from Nebraska and going pro in 2011 had he not won the world title, and that was only when competing with a torn MCL in the 2014 championships.  (In 2013, he competed with five screws in his ankle and won anyway.) He won't say specifically that he was taking the Olympic gold for granted, but that's implied.

"Those were physical adversities. In Rio, that was mental," said Brandon Slay, executive director of the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center and one of Burroughs' coaches since 2011. "He needed some mental surgery, so to speak, to decide whether to keep wrestling and decide what his goals would be if he did. That was a mental and spiritual mountain to overcome."

It was a mountain, no doubt: Burroughs said he reconsidered everything from his training methods to his place of residence (he still lives and trains in Nebraska, seven years removed from college) to his diet.

Yet he ultimately changed nothing but his mind-set, realizing that bad referees, bad conditions, and bad luck can sometimes usurp talent and also that, on a more existential level, nothing is as certain as he once believed. And in that, he has found a backward-yet-calming kind of certainty.

"I think that I'm the best in the world, and I feel that concretely and I think I am capable of doing it, so I think I will [win the title]," he says. "I don't know if it's going to happen for me … but I'm going to work every day like it's going to."

"I have a newfound perspective from the fact that there's nothing that could ever happen to me in sport that could be more devastating than that day in Rio. There's always an opportunity to be your best until I hang up my shoes. And fortunately for me, my shoes still aren't finished.

 

Bound for Budapest

If introspection and rededication have aided Burroughs' recovery from his Olympic collapse, the turning of the calendar has arguably helped just as much.

This month marked the halfway point between Rio and Tokyo 2020, he pointed out, and although Burroughs will be older than any other prior U.S. wrestling gold medalist by the time the sport's spotlight focuses on Japan in two years, he's not too worried about that getting in the way.

"I only have to wrestle six minutes at a time [for] five matches, so essentially 30 minutes of discipline, but [there's] thousands of hours of training," he says. "I don't want to waste that."

After all, Burroughs' recent results have been nothing but overwhelmingly convincing. He came back from a 4-0 deficit to beat Italian wrestler Frank Chamizo in New York in April, then cruised through his Final X match in June in front of a very friendly Nebraska crowd, securing his spot for  a trip to Hungary for the world championships this autumn.

Those world championships might be the most important moment, in terms of guaranteeing his legacy as the best ever, of Burroughs' career.

He could — and expects to — accomplish something there that won't even require Olympic revenge, especially if he can win a seventh title next year and have that all-time American record pursuit wrapped up even before Tokyo.

This past week, Burroughs finally broke from his intense weekly workout routine — two multi-hour training sessions four days a week, plus single-session Wednesdays, conditioning Saturdays, and Sundays off — to head to the U.S. Wrestling training camp in California. He'll attend two more two-week camps before he and the entire worlds contingent departs for Europe on Oct. 10, 10 days before the tournament officially starts.

First, though, Burroughs returned home to the Philadelphia area earlier in August for two friends' weddings and, as he found out later, a surprise 30th birthday party. Even on semi-vacation, he carved out time for training sessions on Penn's campus with Slay and Richard Perry, a close friend and fellow international wrestler in the 86-kilogram weight class.

"I'm a left-leg lead, he's a right-leg lead, so that dynamic allows me to give him a different look than most of the guys that he may wrestle,"  Perry said. "It's about being technical and savvy and trying to balance him in positions I'm good at [so] I can contribute to his development."

The workouts, to the casual observer, seem ridiculously intense for supposed vacation time. But also to the casual observer, Burroughs doesn't have anything to possibly improve. Neither is actually the case.

"Within a match, there's so many things that happen that could ultimately determine the outcome: You reach too much with your right hand, you step forward with your left leg, you get your head out of position," Burroughs says. "Just little stupid stuff that, to the average eye, are concealed, but to us are gaping holes within someone's technique. You need to see that, feel it, and get after it."

 

Great wrestler, better person

No matter what happens in Budapest, or in Tokyo, or at any point throughout the rest of his career, there's no doubt that Burroughs will remain the most recognizable Olympic wrestler of his generation.

He ensures that not only through his athletic domination but also through his personality, which is uncommonly outgoing and welcoming by all standards, to say nothing of professional athlete standards.

Perry, throughout his time wrestling at Bloomsburg University, followed Burroughs — "a legend," he calls him — admiringly on Instagram.  (He was one of many, as Burroughs has nearly half a million followers.) Then he finally had a chance to meet Burroughs as a senior in 2014. Now, the two are close friends.

"Everyone in the wrestling community knows who Jordan is, but regardless of that … he introduces himself like he's anybody else,"  Perry said. "He's a great, great athlete; he works really hard on and off the mat as a man, as a husband, as a wrestler, as a father.  But the thing that puts him above everyone else is his big heart."

Burroughs recently opened up his personal life — he was married in late 2013 and now has two young children — in a short documentary, "Still JB," released in July. It's the latest milestone in a career that has made Burroughs' reputation as a good person almost as widespread as his reputation as a good wrestler.

He said he lives a relatively public life not to receive attention but to inspire others, both in wrestling (Burroughs has become a prominent spokesman for wrestling overall after once helping restore its Olympic inclusion) and in life in general.

"People need to feel like their heroes are human, not on the mat, but in the world," he says. "The more people can see that, the more they can understand that they're capable of doing great things as well. I think that no person in particular is special, but there are just obstacles that each person decides to overcome differently."

So yes, Burroughs fans, your hero listens to "Brave" by Sara Bareilles. He also listens to "Life in the Fast Lane" by the Eagles and "Wesside" by WHATUPRG. He listens to hip-hop, pop, classic rock, and everything in between.

All of it is on his workout playlist, and all of it, he believes, exemplifies his path through numerous contrasting cultures to the precipice of tying a record that will transcend all of them.

"Being from New Jersey and living in Nebraska, going from a predominantly African American neighborhood … [to] a predominantly white sport, being among a working-class wrestling community to fund-raising with billionaires — I've been in so many different circles," he says. "You take a piece of every culture, every economic and social status, every race and ethnicity, and you just grab what you like and discard what you don't and move forward.

"I think music is one of those things that I learned to grab."

TEAM USA: Jordan Burroughs Returns To College Stomping Grounds To Win Final X, Earn 6th Trip To Worlds

Published June 10th, 2018 by Jordan Burroughs

LINCOLN, Neb. — Jordan Burroughs jumped to his feet, flashed a smile and pumped both fists.

And the crowd erupted.

It’s been more than seven years since Burroughs finished his standout career at the University of Nebraska, but he took full advantage of another opportunity to put on yet another show for Cornhuskers fans.

Jordan Burroughs keeps Rio defeat at a distance as he chases record

Published May 22nd, 2018 by Jordan Burroughs

NEW YORK — Jordan Burroughs says he has rewatched almost every one of his wrestling matches at least 15 times. That’s more than 150 senior matches in the last seven years, following a 148-match career at the University of Nebraska.

There is one event that he can’t bring himself to pull up in full — the Rio Olympics. Burroughs suffered two of his five career senior defeats in Brazil. Shockingly, tearfully, the London Olympic champ left his second Games without a medal.

“Disappointment, embarrassment, disgrace,” Burroughs told media on Aug. 19, 2016.

Burroughs slips past Chamizo; Glory, Green prevail at Beat the Streets

Published May 17th, 2018 by Jordan Burroughs

One New Jersey wrestler kicked off the Beat the Streets Rumble on the River event with a big victory on Thursday night and another ended the same way in New York City.

Usually held in Times Square, Thursday's matches were contested on a pier with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

Broken & Rebuilt: The resurrection of Jordan Burroughs

Published April 15th, 2018 by Jordan Burroughs

Editor's note: The Journal Star went behind the scenes with Jordan Burroughs for three months leading up to this year's Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City, Iowa.

It’s leg day.

Jordan Burroughs is on the first set of a workout he calls quadzilla, and it looks as hard as it sounds. Three lunges on each leg carrying a 95-pound barbell, three lunge jumps with the same weight, three lunge jumps with no weight and three squat jumps to finish.

Burroughs starts comeback tour with fourth gold medal

Published October 14th, 2017 by JB

France Wrestling World Championships

 

PARIS — Jordan Burroughs chose not to look at his freestyle world championships bracket the night before he wrestled.

Smart move.

A well-rested Burroughs navigated his way through a brutal bracket at 163 pounds (74 kilograms), rallying in all five matches before capturing his fourth world freestyle title Saturday.

Burroughs Wins 4th World Gold

NBC Olympics: U.S. star Jordan Burroughs key to wrestling's popularity push

Published July 22nd, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Jordan Burroughs used his gold-medal moment at the 2012 Olympics in London to emerge as one of wrestling's biggest stars.

A year later, the world's oldest sport turned to Burroughs to help save its future.

"They needed someone who was consistent, who was marketable, who was eloquent enough in their speech and articulate enough to engage with the media, and who was interested in engaging with the fans via social media," Burroughs said. "It was amazing timing for me."

ABC NEWS: Star Jordan Burroughs Key to Wrestling's Popularity Push

Published July 21st, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

Jordan Burroughs used his gold-medal moment at the 2012 Olympics in London to emerge as one of wrestling's biggest stars.

A year later, the world's oldest sport turned to Burroughs to help save its future.

"They needed someone who was consistent, who was marketable, who was eloquent enough in their speech and articulate enough to engage with the media, and who was interested in engaging with the fans via social media," Burroughs said. "It was amazing timing for me."

PEOPLE: Wrestler Jordan Burroughs Prepares to Head to Rio Thanks to His Very Adorable Cheer Squad

Published July 11th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

07/11/2016 AT 04:05 PM EDT

Will Jordan Burroughs see gold once again at this year?

The wrestler, who took home the gold medal in the men's freestyle 74 kg at the London Olympics in 2012, is giving a sneak peek into how he is preparing to represent Team USA at the Games this year in Rio de Janeiro.

In a clip from NBC, Burroughs' parents Janice and Leroy hold up the wrestler's first-ever participation trophy that he earned at the young age of 6. The two laugh at their son's small prize, but his mother notes Jordan's initial enthusiasm for the sport.

"He was proud, even though it was a 10th-place trophy," she says. "He just knew what hard work would do."
 


For more of PEOPLE's Olympic coverage, pick up our collector's edition, The Best of the Games, on sale now.

Along with his incredibly supportive parents, Burroughs has a family of his own with wife Lauren Burroughs and son Beacon. The athlete's son wanders in and out of the wrestling room as he pleases, which is just the way that the Burroughs likes it.
 
Wrestler Jordan Burroughs Prepares to Head to Rio Thanks to His Very Adorable Cheer Squad| Olympics, Summer Olympics 2016

Jordan Burroughs

VALERIE MACON / AFP / Getty

"He doesn't really understand what he's watching," the wrestler says. "He just sees dad throwing guys around, shooting double legs, but at some point he'll understand work ethic and effort."

To learn more about all the Team USA Olympians, visit teamusa.org. The Rio Olympics begin August 5 and will air on NBC.

AOL: Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs shares tips to a healthy lifestyle

Published June 20th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

Now a four-time world champion with 124 wins under his belt, Jordan Burroughs has his mind set on a goal to become the winningest wrestler in American history.

Jordan won his first Olympic gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and is now aiming for his second at the Summer Games in Rio.

Off the mat, as a husband and father -- he has a 1-year old with baby No. 2 on the way -- Jordan has been brushing up on his culinary chops and has teamed up with America's #1 Greek Yogurt, Chobani, to be part of its #NoBadStuff campaign, which is all about working hard and being grounded in goodness and positivity -- something he embodies every day, from his determination in his sport to the food he puts in his body.

WATCH VIDEO ON AOL HERE!

ESPN: Wrestlers Jordan Burroughs, Adeline Gray book Rio berths

Published April 12th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Jordan Burroughs' wife, Lauren, wrote him a note before his Olympic Team Trials match Sunday to tell him he was destined for greatness.

Burroughs made sure his wife was the first person he thanked after he secured his spot in the Rio Games.

NBC: Jordan Burroughs leads U.S. wrestlers clinching Olympic berths

Published April 11th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

Jordan Burroughs planned a special celebration after making his second Olympic team on Sunday night.

“A 24-hour doughnut place,” he said after throwing his singlet into the crowd. “I might go at like 3 a.m.”

OMAHA.com: Former Husker Jordan Burroughs leaving a legacy on and off the mat

Published April 9th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

Jordan Burroughs talks on his cellphone while his 21-month-old wails in the background. Both father and son could use some sleep.

Burroughs began to understand the collision of life and wrestling when he became a married man in October 2013 and a dad nine months later. One of the most accomplished grapplers in U.S. history suddenly had priorities beyond honing his craft.

NBC: Jordan Burroughs' path to Rio Olympics missing closest U.S. rivals

Published April 6th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

It’s a situation USA Wrestling believes is unprecedented heading into an Olympic trials, and it involves Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs.

Burroughs, the reigning World freestyle champion at 74kg, is a heavy favorite to book a place on the Rio Olympic team in the trials finals in Iowa City on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

USA WRESTLING: Olympians Burroughs, Scott, Hazewinkel plus Molinaro and Bradley win Pan Am freestyle golds for the USA

Published February 29th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

Jordan Burroughs controls Carlos Izquierdo of Colombia in the 74 kg freestyle finals. Photo by Stuart Spears. FRISCO, Texas – Five of the six Americans in the gold-medal finals won gold medals in men’s freestyle at the Pan American Championships at the Dr. Pepper Arena on Saturday night.

USA WRESTLING: Burroughs wins gold, Nelson gets silver at Yasar Dogu International in Turkey

Published February 6th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

Jordan Burroughs receives his gold medal at 74 kg at the Yasar Dogu International in Turkey

ISTANBUL, Turkey – 2012 Olympic champion and three-time World champion Jordan Burroughs (Lincoln, Neb./Sunkist Kids/Nebraska RTC) started off the 2016 Olympic year with impressive dominance.

US WEEKLY: Wrestler Jordan Burroughs Expecting Baby No. 2 Just Weeks Before Summer Olympics

Published January 9th, 2016 by Jordan Burroughs

Baby boy Phelps won’t be the only infant cheering on the U.S. at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio! Wrestler Jordan Burroughs, who won gold in London in 2012, is expecting a little one with wife Lauren Burroughs on June 13 — less than two months before the August 5 opening ceremony.

TIME: Road to the Olympics

Published December 21st, 2015 by Jordan Burroughs

Burroughs says he was originally drawn to the sport by stars of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Nearly undefeated since winning his Olympic title in 2012, he considers himself worthy of the “Mount Rushmore of wrestling.”.

Burroughs named Male Olympic Athlete of the Year for 2014-15 in USOC’s Team USA Awards

Published December 10th, 2015 by Jordan Burroughs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The United States Olympic Committee today announced the 2014-15 winners for the Team USA Awards presented by Dow, Best of the Year, recognizing the outstanding achievements of Team USA athletes and teams in six categories:

The Male Olympic Athlete of the Year is 2015 World champion freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs (Lincoln, Neb./Sunkist Kids/Nebraska RTC).

American duo end season top of UWW freestyle rankings after World Championships success

Published October 8th, 2015 by Jordan Burroughs

America’s Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder have been rewarded for their gold medals at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas by ending the season top of their respective United World Wrestling (UWW) rankings in men’s freestyle.

Burroughs, the reigning Olympic champion in the men’s 74 kilogram event, headed into the Championships as the top ranked athlete and he preserved that status by reaching the final of the division before comfortably defeating Mongolia’s Unurbat Purevjav.

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