USA's Adeline Gray wins silver in wrestling for her first Olympic medal
CHIBA, Japan — U.S. wrestler Adeline Gray doesn’t appear too gray about winning a silver medal at the Olympics.
Yes, the medallion will clash with her five world championship medals, the most titles earned by any American freestyle wrestler regardless of gender. Yes, she said she wanted that "best in the world" recognition once more.
However, after the sacrifice that came with her preparation for the delayed Tokyo Olympics , Gray proudly wears the silver she earned after falling to Germany’s Aline Rotter-Focken 7-3 in the 76 kg final.
"My legacy's not hurt by this by any means," Gray said. "I definitely think I've gone down in history books as one of the greatest and I've shown dominance at this stage and I really think I've pushed this group of very competitive women to new heights."
Following a disappointing quarterfinal exit and seventh-place finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Gray was ready to call it a career. She spent the next year recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries. She got married. She started envisioning life after competing in wrestling, a life she hasn’t known since before she was six years old.
Her coach Terry Steiner and her teammates convinced her to prepare for the Tokyo Games. The additional year allowed her to rehabilitate fractured ribs sustained at the Pan American Games in March 2020. Gray didn’t compete again until U.S. nationals in October.
Gray deferred her aspirations for her life away from sport, which included having a baby with her husband, and set her sights on Tokyo and an elusive Olympic medal.
"There were moments when I didn't want to do this," Gray said. "This is hard. This is really, really hard and it's painful and there are days you don't want to do it and every single person in their job has those days. Mine just comes with a little bit more of a punch in the face."
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — even an elite athlete like Gray struggled like other adults working in isolation did — there were times where she felt like she wasn’t doing enough. There were the lows, the days where she said she felt like she wasn’t in the right spot.
Then there were the good days, the small victories, the feeling like she was exactly where she was meant to be in the sport. The difficult times and the sacrifices made the successes on the mat even sweeter.
"This is a little microcosm of life," Gray said. "These wrestling matches are something you have to fight for and push through. I did that. I came back an Olympic medalist. I'm still very happy."
On Monday, Gray didn’t have answers for Rotter-Focken, a longtime friend who Gray invited to her wedding. Although Gray secured a single leg late in the first period, Rotter-Focken countered the move and scored two points and took a 3-0 lead into the break.
During the next period, Rotter-Focken executed a four-point takedown and extended the lead to 7-0. Gray’s late resurgence, forcing a step-out for a point and then earning a two-point takedown, wasn’t enough to put her on top.
"I'm a big, strong woman and she put her hips into me and squashed me to the ground and took advantage of some length that she has over me," Gray said. "I thought I had a little bit more experience with some tall women back in the States practicing on that length and still ended up being that she got the better of me in that match."
When it comes to considering her future in wrestling and her hopes of becoming a mother, Gray said there’s no such thing as "balance." Instead, it’s all about focus and establishing the right support system to help her through the next phase of her life.
Gray draws inspiration from Russian wrestler Natalia Vorobieva, fellow national teammate Katherine Fulp-Allen and their abilities to pursue wrestling and motherhood simultaneously.
"I really thought that my decision, once I became a mom, had to be that now is what my new job was to be a full-time mother," Gray said. "I think I can do both now."
Much like her Olympic journey, Gray said the process of becoming a mother is one that requires timing. She’ll revisit that conversation with her husband and begin planning that aspect of her future. But until then, her silver medal at the Olympics earned her a ticket to the 2021 world championship in Oslo, Norway.
There, she’ll have another opportunity to assert herself as the best in the world.
"Aline is a friend and I am so proud that I got to go out on the mat and compete with her," Gray said. "I wanted to come out on top, but she did this time. But I'm sure this will just be a friendship that blossoms even more, maybe just not 'til after the world championships this year."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USA's Adeline Gray wins silver in wrestling for her first Olympic medal