All that stood between Helen Maroulis and a gold medal in Olympic wrestling Thursday was three-time defending champion Saori Yoshida. The Washington Post hailed her Japanese opponent as a “legend” and “the best female wrestler ever.”
Maroulis beat Yoshida 4-1 in the final of the 53 kilogram class to win the first Olympic wrestling gold ever for U.S. women.
She dropped to her knees and cried, beginning a celebration worthy of an epic upset.
“I’ve been dreaming about wrestling Saori for so long,” Maroulis said. “She’s a hero. She’s the most decorated wrestler in the sport. It’s such an honor to wrestle her.”
Maroulis scored all her points in the final period, the Post wrote. Her victory was also the result of work she did off the mat. In feeding a “partial obsession” with Yoshida, Maroulis had studied Yoshida’s matches on film for two years and translated her interviews to figure out how she thought, the Post noted.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, mentally, physically and emotionally,” Maroulis, who had been pinned by Yoshida in two previous matches, told the Post. “At the end, I was like, ‘Really, I just did this?’ ”
NBC noted that Maroulis’ feat has been compared to the so-called “Miracle on the Mat,” when American Rulon Gardner shocked Aleksandr Karelin in the 2000 Olympics’ super heavyweight Greco-Roman men’s final. Karelin hadn’t lost a match in 13 years.
The U.S. women’s wrestling coach recognized the importance of the moment. “To finally have that Olympic gold medal means so much,” Terry Steiner said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s like breaking that barrier. It’s like breaking that four-minute mile. You needed someone to step forward and claim that and that’s what Helen did tonight.”
Maroulis, from Rockville, Maryland, also had to overcome a battle with the scale, NBC reported. She had won a world title in the 55 kilogram class but had to cut weight to compete in the 53 kilogram division in Rio. She hired a nutritionist to cope with a strict dietary regimen, but that’s over now.
“I’ve been dreaming about all the Greek food,” she said.
You earned it, champ.
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