By Jessica Glazer
Before Jordan Burroughs was a world-class wrestler with a 69-game winning streak, an Olympic gold medal and a spot at the Rio Olympics, he was a scrawny kid in suburban New Jersey, "a late bloomer," he said.
Burroughs began wrestling at 6 years old and although he started young like many Olympic athletes, his international dominance in the sport was anything but certain.
“Hard work can really overcome any obstacle. Any type of adversity, any lack of talent, lack of opportunity,” Burroughs said. “Perseverance helped me reach this level.”
Now, Burroughs is gunning for his second Olympic gold medal in Rio. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated grit, including winning his second world gold medal in 2013 just a month after breaking his ankle.
“I love the battle,” Burroughs, 28, said. “I love to win.”
In the 2012 London Olympics, Burroughs earned his first Olympic gold medal when he beat Iranian Ezzatollah Akbarizarinkolaei 4-0, and gained the respect of that country where the popular sport is thousands of years old. This June, though, Burroughs had to withdraw from the Freestyle World Cup, where he would have faced another Iranian star, Hassan Yazdani Charati, because of the birth of his second child. In response, the Iranian Wrestling Federation sent him a gift of a hand-woven cloth to welcome his new daughter.
His family is part of the reason Burroughs works as hard as he does at wrestling, in an effort to leave something behind for his children to be proud of.
“To think about leaving him a legacy seems like it's far off, but Jordan takes that really seriously,” Lauren said of their son Beacon, who was born in 2014. “When [Jordan] steps on the mat, all of those things are always on his mind.”
Burroughs’ Twitter and Instagram accounts are full of photos and videos of his son and daughter, as well as of him wrestling and training. His persona as a husband and father, and his focus on positivity, have helped him become a well-known and approachable figure in a sport that is often insular.
That public profile has helped him become the face the sport in some ways, as when the International Olympic Committee announced that it would cut wrestling from the Olympic roster in 2020. Burroughs spoke out on Twitter when he found out, raising awareness of the decision, and he has said that he hopes a win for him in Rio will help ensure the sport’s Olympic future.
Burroughs would most likely not have had a career in wrestling if it wasn’t for the support of his parents. His father Leroy, a construction worker, was his first coach and he tried not to disappoint the high expectations his father put on him.
Burroughs performed well in grade school, but struggled most when stepping up to the next levels, in high school and then in college at University of Nebraska. He closed his freshman year in Nebraska with a record of 16-13. But he kept training.
“Jordan is relentless,” said Lauren. “He's usually the first guy in the room and he's always the last guy to leave.”
Now he has an Olympic gold medal under his belt and the confidence that comes along with it.
“A lot of guys want what I want and there's essentially only one spot at the top of the podium and one gold medal at each Olympic games,” Burroughs said. “It's going to be someone. It should be me.”