Takeaways and findings as the 2024 Paris Games approach

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The U.S. wrestling team for the 2024 Paris Olympics is almost here.

After two days of grueling competition at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's campus, 18 wrestlers emerged from the Olympic Wrestling Trials with wins in their respective weight classes and styles. With that, the vast majority of them – 13 out of 18 – have officially booked their tickets to Paris for later this summer. The other five will now represent Team USA and try to earn their spots in the Olympic qualifying tournament in May.

Many of the names who qualified on Saturday will be familiar to casual Olympic fans, from Helen Maroulis to Kyle Snyder and Kyle Dack. But others may be new, including a pair of dominant young players who outlasted their veteran rivals in the women's tournament.

Here are the highlights and things to know from the Olympic Wrestling Trials, with a focus on Paris.

Kennedy Blades and Amit Elor are leading the next wave

Two of the most dominant performances at the trials came courtesy of two 20-year-old women who had never made an Olympic team: Kennedy Blades and Amit Elor.

Elor has taken the world wrestling scene by storm, winning eight world titles at various age groups over the past three years. She looked absolutely in control in a 6-0, 2-1 win over Forrest Molinari at 68kg.

Perhaps the most surprising result came at 76kg, where Blades overcame reigning Olympic silver medalist Adeline Gray in convincing fashion, winning 11-6 in the opening bout followed by an 8-3 win to claim her place in the Olympic team. Blades said it was a surreal moment, considering their history. She said Gray actually coached her on her first trip to the Pan American Games, when Blades was a teenager.

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“Now we're fighting for an Olympic spot. It's great,” Blades said. “This younger generation has been looking up to the older generation. Now when they're probably starting to retire and so on, and we're catching up with them, they're setting a great example for us.”

While veterans Sarah Hildebrandt, Kayla Miracle and Helen Maroulis still give the U.S. Women's Olympic Team a sense of experience, they know more young talent is coming. Hildebrandt faced Audrey Jimenez, a high school senior who won the Arizona boys state wrestling championship earlier this year, in the weight class final, for example.

“It's a really nice tournament,” said Hildebrandt, 30. “We're seeing the depth of women's wrestling in the United States growing.”

Is this the end for Jordan Burroughs?

Burroughs, a six-time world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, told several media outlets in stories published this month that he would retire after either the 2024 Paris Olympics or the Olympic Trials. But when Jason Nolf knocked him out of the 74kg Challenger tournament on Friday night, Burroughs did not speak to reporters or confirm his decision. He also did not leave his shoes on the mat – the World Wrestling sign of retirement – as fellow American star Jaden Cox did hours earlier.

While an official announcement may be pending, Burroughs likely knows he's at the end of the road. He has five children, including a two-month-old boy, Budge. In a sport where people in their 20s typically predominate, he is just months away from his 36th birthday and will be 40 years old by the time of the 2028 Olympics.

Kyle Snyder joins the rare club

On a night where a stunning loss to gold medalist David Taylor made headlines, Kyle Snyder was able to comfortably win over his opponent, Isaac Trumbull. In fact, he did not concede any points.

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Still only 28 years old, Snyder has been a consistent powerhouse at 97kg, winning nine Olympic and world medals in that weight class since 2015. He will now make his third trip to the Olympics, looking to add to the gold he won in Rio de Janeiro Janeiro and the silver he won in Tokyo. According to USA Wrestling, he is the 11th American wrestler to qualify for three matches.

“The first time you do it, you're really happy. Now it's just an expectation (I have) of myself,” Snyder said. “And then the real fun begins.”

Paris is heading to Paris

The heavyweight wrestler who will represent Team USA in Paris is none other than Mason Paris, a world bronze medalist who recently concluded his distinguished college career at Michigan.

He celebrated his 7-0 straight win over Hayden Zelmer by wearing a “Paris to Paris” hat like his family. When asked where the hats came from, he said he had no idea. His parents had just given him one when he got off the carpet.

“It's fate, you know?” Paris said. “I'm 24 years old. 2024. Paris in Paris.”

Seeds have an advantage

The Olympic wrestling trials are run in a bracket, but in 14 of the 18 weight classes, at least one athlete has earned an automatic bye to the semifinals or finals — which appears to offer a significant advantage. Athletes who are rested rest most or all of the first day of trials. They don't have to weigh multiple times, which relieves some of the stress that cutting weight can cause.

But in this year's trials, the parity was greater than one might think. Five athletes worked their way to the so-called Challenger Championship, then beat an athlete who had a bye – most notably Aaron Brooks, who beat Taylor.

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“It's pros and cons to both,” he said when asked if wrestling in the Challenger tournament helped him build momentum or provided him with any other advantage. “I'm not going to pick one. Just wherever you are, use what you have.”

Still work to do

While a winner is crowned in each weight category, three Greco-Roman and two men's freestyle athletes have one more step to go. They will have to compete in the last-chance qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games in Istanbul, Turkey from May 9-12, when the final places in the Paris 2024 field are at stake.

Spencer Lee, who beat reigning Olympic bronze medalist Thomas Gilman on his final Saturday, sees the event as another opportunity to build international experience.

He said: “I consider it a blessing, and I will prepare for the Olympics after I win this tournament.”

Complete Olympic Wrestling Trials results

  • *57 kg: Spencer Lee defended. Thomas Gilman
  • *65 kg: Zayn Retherford def. Nick Lee
  • 74 kg: Kyle Duck beat. Jason Nolf
  • 86 kg: Aaron Brooks def. David Taylor
  • 97 kg: Kyle Snyder defeated. Isaac Trumbull
  • 125 kg: Mason Paris defeated. Hayden Zelmer

Women's freestyle swimming

  • 50 kg: Sarah Hildebrandt def. Audrey Jimenez
  • 53 kg: Dominic Parrish def. Haley Augello
  • 57 kg: Helen Maroulis def. Jakarta Winchester
  • 62 kg: Kayla Miracle defended. Maisie Quilty
  • 68 kg: Amit Elor defeated. Forrest Molinari
  • 76 kg: Kennedy Blades defended. Adeline Gray

Roman Greek

  • *60 kg: Dalton Roberts def. Eldar Hafidzov
  • *67 kg: Ellis Coleman defeated. Alejandro Sancho
  • *77 kg: Kamal Bey was defeated. Alexander Kikino
  • 87 kg: Payton Jacobson def. Spencer Woods
  • 97 kg: Joseph Rau defeated. Alan Vera
  • 130 kg: Adam Conn defeated. Colton Schultz

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on social media @Tom_Schad.

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