Arguably the most significant storyline (and there was a myriad of notable ones) of the 2021 Olympic Trails at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, this past weekend had nothing to do with results on a wrestling mat or an awards podium, but rather it involved a scale. The biggest story, one that sent shockwaves through the wrestling community, was that one of Team USA’s best athletes, J’den Cox, did not compete in the Men’s 97 kg Freestyle field. Cox “missed weight” and therefore was not permitted to compete at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Now two days post-Trials, here is everything that has come to light regarding one of the stranger events in recent memory at a U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
While The Open Mat was not at the Trials personally, these seem to be an accurate and accepted timeline of events surrounding J’den Cox’s attempts to make weight at Trials on Friday, April 3. These details have been confirmed by many within broader wrestling media, including numerous people in the venue and in the weigh-in area as things unfolded.
Cox arrived at the venue at 7:21 AM, 39 minutes before the scales closed. This time is verifiable via Cox’s official athlete credential. These credentials, equipped with an automated barcode, are used to track when any athlete, coach, trainer, official, administrator, and media member enters a building or other designated event area. When that happens, a barcode scans and a time records.
The other necessary time to note – 8:13 AM – is the time recorded on Cox’s log for when he officially stepped on the scale (and made) the required 97 kg threshold. The problem is that Cox was 13 minutes past the 8:00 AM deadline. As such, USA Wrestling ruled that his successful attempt to make weight was invalid. Cox was removed from the 97 kg bracket and was not permitted to compete at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
So, what happened?
How could a decorated and experienced wrestler like Cox make such a critical and unfortunate mistake?
“I was informed with the wrong times of when weigh-ins were supposed to be, and that’s just flat-out the truth,” Cox, who said he was still in the appeals process, told NBC Sports before Saturday’s finals in Fort Worth, Texas. “Really, I think it’s just miscommunication. In the grand scheme of things, I feel that I was not — how do I say — presented, I guess, the same opportunity would be the word to say. I’m not really sure how to phrase it, but I think it’s just miscommunication. I want the right to represent my country.”
Cox said his coach, 1992 Olympic champ Kevin Jackson, a USA Wrestling employee currently serving as a developmental coach with USA Wrestling, gave him the wrong times.
“We’re not giving up,” Jackson texted Friday morning, according to FloWrestling. “Working on it.”
Cox’s initial petition to USA Wrestling to be able to compete at Trials got denied. Cox himself later confirmed his intentions to appeal and further fight USA Wrestling’s rendering, which kept him off the mats and currently has his Tokyo 2021 hopes in jeopardy.
Thus USA Wrestling initially declined comment on Cox’s interview, citing section 9 (“athletes’ rights”) of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee bylaws process and protocol.
“[When] we had the petition, I told them, either way, whatever you decide today, my role wasn’t going to change,” Cox said. “I told them, either you say, no, I can’t wrestle, and I’m still going to go to practice, which I did, because now I’m training for worlds [in October, for which there will be a Trials meet after the Olympics], or you say, yes, I can wrestle, and I’m training for the next match.”
Since then, USA Wrestling’s Executive Director Rich Bender said the following, “I think J’den’s made some comments that he intends to exhaust his opportunities to be heard further, and certainly that’s within his right and something that we won’t stand in the way of.”
Cox, who took 86 kg bronze in Rio, also won the World Championships in 2018 and 2019 at 92 kg, not an Olympic weight class. With that, the former Missouri Tiger became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years.
He’s on a 20-plus-match win streak dating to 2018.
As of now, Kyle Snyder will represent the country in Tokyo. Snyder won the 97 kg weight class at the 2021 Trials after defeating his friend and former Ohio State Buckeye teammate, Kollin Moore, two matches to zero in the finals. Snyder became the youngest U.S. wrestler to win a world title in 2015 at age 19 and an Olympic title in 2016.