LINCOLN — Jordan Burroughs made all the rounds after returning from the Summer Games last August, going just about anywhere to sign autographs, pose for pictures or simply talk about realizing the Olympic dream.
It was a “ridiculous amount of places,” the former Nebraska wrestler said Thursday, but he loved telling kids to aim high and sharing a glance or touch of his gold medal as inspiration.
Burroughs never thought that several months later a bureaucratic decision might put young wrestlers’ Olympic dreams out of reach. the International Olympic Committee announced last month that it plans to eliminate wrestling from the Summer Games, starting in 2020.
“I spent months after the Olympic Games traveling around the country, telling kids this is possible and showing them my medal,” he said. “I told them if they worked as hard as possible and made the sacrifices, this was possible for them. It’s really upsetting for me to look at those kids and now realize they possibly will never have the chance to wrestle in the Olympic Games.”
Burroughs returned this week from trips to Iran and Belarus, coming home for the first time since the Feb. 12 announcement that wrestling’s spot in the Olympics was in jeopardy.
Efforts are being made to challenge the decision — and wrestling can still reapply for inclusion in the program — but Burroughs is among those still numb from the initial blow that has left him with mixed emotions over that gold medal that he treasured.
“At camps, I’d let kids pass it around and put it around their necks and get pictures taken with it,” he said. “That’s something they dream of. That’s something they want to experience on their own. I pray they have that experience as well.”
The hardest part, he said, was feeling helpless as he heard the news. He had just arrived in Iran for the Freestyle World Championships.
In his time overseas, however, Burroughs said one of the neat things was seeing Americans, Iranians and Russians all come together to save the fate of the sport.
“We’re extremely competitive and we all want to win, and on the mat we’re competitors and opponents,” he said. “But with this whole ordeal going on, in the spirit of the Olympics we’ve kind of come together and basically joined forces to wrestle with the IOC now.
“The Iranian delegation, as well as the Russians, it’s extremely important to those guys, even more important than here in America. We know wrestling’s in the right hands.”
Unfortunately, Burroughs said, there is not much that can be done individually, other than taking to social media, telling people about it and just “keeping it out there.”
“we don’t want to protest, don’t want to be rebellious … but we want to do our part,” he said.
“It’s still scary because you never know. Basically we’re thrown back into the gauntlet with a number of other sports trying to get back in for 2020. There’s a lot of important people behind the cause, but still quite a bit to get done.”
Wrestling joins seven other sports applying for spots on the program for 2020, a proposal that will be made in May. Some observers, though, have said it’s unlikely that a sport would be voted back in so soon after being removed.
Burroughs, 24, is back in Lincoln. The former two-time NCAA champion at NU recently was named a semifinalist for the 2012 Sullivan Award and is training now for the U.S. Open next month in Las Vegas. He already has said he plans to wrestle in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after being the youngest wrestler on the 2012 U.S. team in London.
So what about 2020? Burroughs said he’s more concerned about the Olympic opportunity possibly being taken away from others than from him right now.
“It’s quite a long ways away, so I’m just focusing on this,” he said. “Once 2016 arrives, then I’ll make the decision whether to keep wrestling or move on with my life.”
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