Wrestler Jordan Burroughs Didn't Make it to Tokyo, But He's Winning His Own Journey

Previous Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs may not have qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but the dad of three is focused on the daily, smaller wins that matter most.

An image of Jordan Burroughs on a colorful background.
Photo: Getty Images. Art: Jillian Sellers.

When we spoke on the phone, Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Jordan Burroughs was in the midst of training in hopes that he'd head to Tokyo. Fast forward months later and the 33-year-old didn't make the U.S. team. The loss doesn't overshadow his achievements—Burroughs is a two-time Olympian (2012 and 2016) and four-time world champion who has made history. He's one of only three Black male wrestlers to win freestyle Olympic gold medals. (Tamyra Mensah-Stock became the first Black woman to win gold in wrestling in the Tokyo Games in August.)

"This road has been long and difficult. I'm gonna take some time away to reflect and rebuild. This isn't the end for me," he wrote on Instagram after the loss. The latter is likely not hard for fans to believe as Burroughs, who started wrestling around the age of 5 or 6, preserved after tearing several ligaments in his left knee during a match in 2009 and won a 2013 world championship four weeks after breaking his ankle.

In the meantime, Burroughs is cheering on via social media those who are competing for Team USA and is also focused on the title he's most proud of: dad. The New Jersey native has three kids—Beacon, 7, Ora, 5, and Rise Ivory, 1—with wife Lauren Mariacher, a journalist and blogger who comes from a wrestling family and has been a strong support system for him. (She even writes him motivational letters before his matches!) His kids have also been watching him in action, whether at his competitions or during training, and even as he focuses on his nutrition. "I want to be a role model for them," he says. "I want them to be able to pursue their goals intently."

While winning an Olympic medal is "always the ultimate goal," Burroughs more recently said other important moments define parenthood. "There are smaller, daily 'wins' that end up representing more to your kids. The little achievements I have each day—like being there to teach my kids how to ride a bike, or to make homemade Valentine's, or even how to do a proper push-up—create habits that truly measure our character as parents," he says. "My kids would've loved to see me on the podium but showing up for them each and every day is the real victory."

The athlete, who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with his family, dished on what he's hoping to teach his kids through his career, how he's not letting gender stereotypes define them, and the mantra that he continues to live by.

On what he hopes his kids take away from his career:

The thing I try to do is always to project those same ideals that I want to teach them—to be a professional, to always operate with grace and kindness, to work hard... And just to go out there and try to capture whatever it is that you desire to accomplish.

I've dreamed of achieving this level of success for a long period of time, and to bring my kids alongside me, to have them share this journey, has been pretty special.

On letting his son get into wrestling:

Wrestling is a very intimate sport. It's not for everyone—there's a certain toughness and just a certain level of character and personality that you have to have to compete in it. And so, he told me, "Dad, I want to go to practice." I just wanted to protect him for a long time because I didn't want him to feel like I was pressuring him to start. Plus, I know there's a lot of pressure everywhere he goes, because of who he is and who his dad is.

Finally I was like, "Sure, let's do it." The great thing about expectations, and pressures, sometimes, you know, people live up to them. And when they do, they can become great. And hopefully that's what he's going to be able to do someday.

On not letting gender stereotypes keep his daughter back:

I think about how many women specifically could have been successful at the sport of wrestling if someone just encouraged them to do it. There are so many people who have ties to wrestling—so many women whose dad, uncles, brothers, cousins participated in the sport; moms whose sons participate in the sport. And, you know, no one ever really just encouraged them and said, "Hey, why don't you try it? Let's see what you got."

And so, at my son's first wrestling practice, my daughter preferred to just do cartwheels on the side because she loves gymnastics. And I'm like, "Baby, gymnastics is awesome and we're going to get an opportunity to do that, but that's on Thursday night, tonight is Monday, we have an opportunity to wrestle here… Yeah, it's hard. And there are a lot of boys here, and you feel uncomfortable, and a little nervous. But if you can get out there, you'll feel so proud of yourself and this is something that I know you can accomplish."

On what inspired his Instagram handle @alliseeisgold:

"All I see is gold" was kind of like a mantra for the way that I lived and the way that I wanted to operate. I don't necessarily say the wherewithal, but I just thought about what I wanted to pursue every time I step into a wrestling arena, how I wanted to compete, how I wanted people to view me, what I was hoping to accomplish. I was just like, "OK, all I see is gold is just like a standard of always pursuing excellence and always trying to be at your best."

When I created it [in my senior year of college], I didn't even think it was great. I thought it was kind of cheesy, actually. But when I started winning consistently people started to say, "Man, this guy really does only see gold." It just grew into this kind of slogan of its own. And it took on a life of its own. And now it just is who I am. Fortunately for me, I had a great run in my wrestling career, and I had a ton of success. And I just had the ability to kind of align with what it was that I represented… I've lost a lot of since making it, but I think it's still signifies a mindset and an approach to life.

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