Who is Adeline Gray? Rio Is Giving This Olympic Wrestler A Chance To Make History For Women
One Olympian heads to Rio as a three-time World Champion with a 37-match winning streak to compete in a sport that almost got cut from the Olympic Games' roster: wrestling. Despite being one of the first Olympic events back in ancient Greece, the International Olympic Committee placed wrestling on the chopping block for seven months before reinstating it in September 2013. Only proposed gender equality reforms (and a multimillion dollar ad budget) saved it. So who is Adeline Gray? She's making history as one of the Team USA wrestlers competing in the first-ever Olympic women's wrestling event with the same number of weight classes as men.
Gray is originally from Colorado and grew up thinking she might be a professional soccer player. But that all changed, as Tim Foley shared in an exposé on Gray for espnW.com, when her family asked her to choose just one sport to compete in; they had four kids and needed to save money. So, just before starting high school, she made the choice that would pave her pathway for years to come. Gray told Foley: "It was weird, but I thought I could be an Olympic champion. I mean all of a sudden these women were on TV competing. It was real."
That was cemented by the actions of a boyfriend who dumped her for spending too much time on the sport. From there, it was straight to wrestling success. She won the junior world championship at just 17 and even moved around the country to find the best high school to wrestle at. After graduation, training continued. The only problem was the weight class — likely one of the things that kept her out of the Olympics in 2012. Her 67 kg weight class didn't exist. She lost a lot of weight to make the 63 kg class, but tired out and didn't make the team.
So in a way, wrestling nearly being cancelled saved her. The international wrestling federation, now called United World Wrestling, proposed moving two weight classes from the men's freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling to women's freestyle. That gave Gray the options of 69 kg and 75 kg, and she's worked her way up to the 75 kg weight class she'll be competing in on Monday, Aug. 15 in Rio. She explained to ESPN The Magazine just how bad losing the 30 pounds in 2012 was:
Before the matches, I was eating dinner with my mom and I just stopped and was holding my jaw. She was like, "Oh, did you get hit in one of your matches?" "No, my jaw is sore from not chewing food for the last three weeks before this event." I was just eating protein shakes for every meal. The realization that I hadn't chewed and used those muscles in so long that they would cramp up and get sore halfway through a meal ... it was almost heartbreaking, because why would somebody do that to their body?
Now she's less focused on gaining or losing weight. "I'm now wrestling a lot closer to my natural weight class," she told ESPN The Magazine, adding, "and I'm getting to focus more on wrestling and just getting better and making my body stronger, rather than constantly fighting to make my body small enough." She said staying within her natural range has proved important, and it's paid off: She won her final bout at the U.S. Team Olympic Trials in April in 65 seconds, as opposed to the usual six minutes.
Now she's the wrestler to beat in Rio. She would be the first American woman to win the gold in the sport. Her whole family flew to Brazil to cheer her on, but they won't be alone in celebrating her win.