The new face of U.S. wrestling became a first-time Olympian last Saturday, as Jordan Burroughs won the 163-pound freestyle division at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in Iowa City. Undefeated since 2009, Burroughs, 23, earned his berth when his opponent in the final, Andrew Howe, retired between matches because of a knee injury. In March 2011, Burroughs won his second NCAA title as a Nebraska Cornhusker (he also won in '09), and six months later, under international rules that often take years to master, he became world champion in Istanbul, where he was the youngest member of the men's team. "I want to be the name everyone knows," Burroughs says. "I've had those stars in my eyes."
Those dreams were born when he saw Michael Johnson run to two gold medals at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. "Since then, I've wanted to walk around the stadium and wave to people at the ceremonies," says Burroughs. His father, Leroy, a construction worker in Winslow Township, N.J., would take him to tournaments an hour early, where, like museum-goers, they would walk through the gyms and stare at all of the trophies and medals on display.
Jordan describes himself as a recent bloomer, both physically—he weighed 99 pounds as a high school freshman—and emotionally. As a freshman at Nebraska he had a mediocre 16--13 record and spent part of the year on academic probation. "I was lazy and embarrassed," he says. "I didn't want to be [just] some guy on the team, and I didn't want to be a dumb jock."
Burroughs hit the weights and the books, improving to a B average and graduating last year with a sociology degree. His signature double-leg takedown, in which he grabs the back of his opponent's knees and knocks him backward, is unstoppable. "If I see the guy's head go back or his hands go above his knees," he says, "I know exactly when to attack." His last defeat came in a December 2009 match in which he tore two ligaments in his left knee. He underwent surgery and was out for six months. "The pain was nothing," he says. "The blemish on my record still haunts me. There's no excuse for not winning."