After reading the recent article from NBC Sports about Helen moving to Oklahoma and getting past her two concussions, it had me at a natural assumption. It’s Helen’s Olympic spot if she wants it. Then I got a little curious, because with the strength of our women’s team, contraction to six Olympic weights, and the idea of being in the middle of weights is never easy, State College probably won’t be a simple coronation weekend for her. The previous trials had the American Women scattering to different weight classes to avoid Helen, which certainly made sense. However, 57 kg is an Olympic weight and a number of factors point to this not being a luxury for 2020.
After winning her first World Championship in 2015, Helen Maroulis won the first ever Olympic Gold for the United States in 2016, slaying the legendary Yoshida (Japan). Helen then went to the 2017 World Championships and posted one of the most dominant gold medal performances of all-time (five tech’s combining to a 52-0 score). Then, she headed to India for the pro league and suffered a concussion. She returned to the mat for a delayed wrestle-off and then lost in her first match at the 2018 World Championships. A shoulder surgery and another concussion has had her off the mat since.
Veteran Jenna Burkert has the spot this year. If she finds her way to a medal, she will be in the “seat” already in the best two of three. Helen will have to go through the challenge bracket with her not competing this year.
Becka Leathers was the runner-up at 57 kg this year. She is a 2017 World Bronze medalist and will just be 23-years old when the trials come along in April.
There are some interesting decisions to be made in Iowa City. The constantly improving Forrest Molinari will be competing at the 2019 World Championships at 65 kg again after falling in a controversial bronze medal match last year. 65 kg is a non-Olympic weight and the Olympic weight above is controlled by Tamyra Mensah.
If Molinari is going down to 62, that makes an interesting decision for fellow Hawkeye Wrestling Club mate, two-time World Silver medalist Alli Ragan. She is heading to this month’s World Championships at 59 kg, a non-Olympic weight. The possible choice for 2020 may be to either face Helen or your teammate. Of course, when you share a room you usually have a decent idea on who you can and can’t beat.
The non-Olympic weight below 57 kg has been controlled the last two years by Jacarra Winchester, who has been quite the emerging talent and undoubtedly a factor at the 2020 Olympic Trials. She dropped a heart breaker in the semi-finals of last year’s World Championships and another razor close decision in the bronze medal match. Her decision will be to either drop down and face 2018 World Silver medalist, Sarah Hildebrandt or go up to the 57 kg fray.
I imagine Helen’s health and competition schedule, or lack thereof, in the meantime will be monitored closely by curious parties. We are just under seven months until the trials, and this will be something to certainly keep an eye on. Without the air of invincibility, this will be a challenge to return to defend her Olympic Gold.