photo courtesy of UWW
Three years after her last World Championship Adeline Gray was back in the finals and looked as if she had never left. Similar to her 2015 final, Gray made short work of her opponent Yasemin Adar (Turkey), getting a takedown, then a whirlwind of her signature leg laces to prematurely end the championship bout in the first period. After winning her world gold medal in 2015, Gray looked poised to become the first American woman to capture an Olympic gold medal. That was not in the cards as Gray turned in an un-Adeline like performance and missed the podium entirely. A series of injuries, as well as questions surrounding her future in the sport, kept her away from the mat and she would not even compete at the qualifying event for the 2017 World Championships.
Not all championship runs are equal, especially on the world level. With limited seeding, unbalanced brackets, and random draws, there’s the possibility that a gold medalist could have emerged from the less rigid side of the bracket. In Adeline’s case in 2018 at 76 kg, she earned her gold medal by doing the exact opposite and went through the most challenging path possible in claiming her fourth world title. Her opening match saw her down a past world bronze medalist (Mae Epp – Estonia). In the quarters, while in a battle with Olympic bronze medalist Elmira Syzdykova (Kazakhstan), Gray would prevail by picking up a fall. It would get no easier in the semi’s as she got by the 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist Erica Wiebe 3-1, on the strength of a nicely timed takedown, at the end of the first period. That set the stage for a match between Gray and Adar the 2017 World Champion. In just under three minutes, Adeline dismantled the Turkish world champ and matched Tricia Saunders as the only woman to win four world championships.
Gray was not the only American wrestler to receive a medal Wednesday, Tamyra Mensah-Stock won a bronze at 68 kg. Mensah-Stock has been on the cusp of breaking out at the world level for a few years now, after being named USA Wrestling’s Women’s Athlete of the Year in 2017, and over the past two days, it all came together. Her only loss featured questionable judgment from the officials, at best, and her opponent in that match was leading for the bulk of the bout before getting caught in a series of turns. After watching her development, you have to imagine that in 2019 she will be expected to take the next step and compete as one of the favorites all year and heading into worlds.
The final group of women took the mat this morning, and two of them are still alive in contention for a medal. One, Sarah Hildebrandt, has already clinched a medal, she will be wrestling in the 53 kg final tomorrow and hopes that her medal will be gold. Hildebrandt used an array of lifts and turns to propel her through the bracket and into the finals. Though Sarah was the top seed at 53 kg, she was paired in the first round with two-time world medalist Zhuldyz Eshimova (Kazakhstan). That match, a 5-1 decision, proved to be her closest of the day. She punched her ticket to the finals with a 10-0 tech of Diana Weicker (Canada).
The most surprising result of the day was Helen Maroulis’ first-round loss to Alyona Kolesnik (Azerbaijan), though looking back it probably should not have been. Helen missed the bulk of 2018 dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion that was suffered while wrestling in India’s pro league. In an emotional post-match interview, Maroulis discussed how she only was able to prepare for the World Championships five weeks out and trained without any of her partners touching her head. As a wrestler, she has nothing left to prove. If Helen were to retire tomorrow and go down as one of the most important, talented, and inspirational American women to ever don a pair of wrestling shoes. Helen is, of course, a competitor so she will likely try to find a way to return to her 2017 form, while still making her long-term health and well-being a priority.
At 62 kg, Mallory Velte will be the second US wrestler that will compete for a medal tomorrow. She will be looking to win bronze, which would be her first world medal. Velte won three matches today before getting caught in a cradle during her semifinal match with Taybe Yusein (Bulgaria). Throughout her run to the semi’s Mallory proved to be very aggressive and not caught in the moment. Her biggest win came in the Round of 16 when she knocked off two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jackeline Renteria (Colombia) 14-6.
The bad draw of the day belonged Whitney Conder at 50 kg. She opened up with a very tough, Sonhyang Kim (North Korea) and was on the wrong side of a hard-fought 7-2 decision. Whitney would be eliminated from the tournament after Kim lost a nailbiter in the semis to 2009 World Champion and seven-time World/Olympic medalist Mariya Stadnik (Azerbaijan).
In addition to Hildebrandt and Velte’s medal round matches, the Greco team will get their tournament underway with the 55, 63, 72, and 82 kg classes.