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Helen Maroulis has been 'preparing for years' to face Saori Yoshida

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Women's wrestling is a relatively new Olympic sport – it was only added in 2004 – but it's one that the United States has not yet won a gold medal in yet.


There's a good chance that could change on Thursday when a pair of reigning world champions take the mat: Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis.


Gray, who was recently profiled on this very site, will compete in the 75kg weight class, a division she has dominated recently. The three-time world champion has not lost a match in over two years and will be the gold medal favorite in this tournament.



Maroulis is a candidate to win gold as well, but her path is a little more complicated. Although Maroulis won a world title last year, it came in the 55kg (121 lbs) division. Since 55kg is not an Olympic weight class, she had to drop down to the 53kg (117 lbs) category for the Rio Games.


That translates to about a 4.5 lbs difference. Think that doesn't seem like a big deal? Well, think again.


"I was [already] lean at 55 [kilograms]," Maroulis explained. "I think I got body fat tested at 14% before Worlds, so for a woman that's really low. So to go 14% and then get another five pounds off but then still be able to perform is just extremely difficult. I knew it was going to take a year of work, at least."


Maroulis had to completely revamp her nutrition and exercise plans in order to get herself ready to compete in the lower weight class, not an easy feat.


"When I say went from 55, I mean I was already cutting to 55 [from my natural weight]," she said. "So really I'm going from a lot higher, to a lot lower."



A move to the 53kg division also puts her directly in competition with Saori Yoshida, the three-time reigning Olympic champion from Japan. Yoshida could join her compatriot Kaori Icho, who won gold in the 58kg weight class on Wednesday, as the only wrestlers to ever win four gold medals.


The competition draw took place on Wednesday, and there's good and bad news for Maroulis when looking at the bracket. The good: She's on the opposite side from Yoshida, meaning they won't have to face each other until a potential gold medal final. The bad: She will start in the "qualification" rounds, meaning she will have to wrestle one extra match than Yoshida.


"Here's the deal," Maroulis told NBCOlympics.com earlier this year. "I want to win a gold medal in Rio. So I know that I will probably have to wrestle Saori Yoshida, but I also know that I'm probably going to have to wrestle four or five matches leading up to that. So she is not my biggest competitor – everyone's my biggest competitor. I don't underestimate anyone, I respect every opponent.


"So am I preparing for Saori? Of course, absolutely. I've been preparing for her for years, and I really look forward to wrestling her. But I'm also preparing for everyone else too, and I look forward to wrestling them as well."



If the dream matchup between Maroulis and Yoshida comes to fruition and Maroulis emerges victorious, hopefully she will have a better idea what to do this time around.


"I remember after I'd won [the 2015 World Championships], I ran and I jumped into Valentin [Kalika]'s arms – he's my coach," Maroulis recalled. "My other coach, Kevin Black, brings the [American] flag up and they put it around me, and I look at them like, 'What do I do?' They're like, 'Run around.' And I'm like, 'This is so weird.'"


With a tough weight cut looming, the experience of winning that world title gave her some extra motivation for the year ahead.


"I just remember running around, just imagining that it was also gonna be [like this in] Rio. I remember being on the podium like, 'Awesome! Let's get back to work. One year.'"


That year has come and gone. On Thursday, Maroulis will find out just how much her dedication to her new training program has paid off. And she hopes the day will end in the same place she found herself at the world championships: on top of the podium.


Schedule and live stream


Prelims: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. ET

Live stream: Mat A | Mat B | Mat C


Preliminary rounds all the way up through the semifinals will take place during the morning session, with competition taking place on three mats.


Finals: 3: p.m. – 6 p.m. ET

Live stream: Main Mat (B) | Extra Mat (link to come)


The final session will feature repechage matches, bronze medal matches and gold medal matches. Some of the early matches will take place on a second mat (Mat A) before all action moves back to the main mat (Mat B). There will be a live stream available for both mats.


All live streams will be archived as replays shortly after the event ends.


Women's 53kg


Pre-Olympic world rankings of entrants

No. 1 at 53kg: Saori Yoshida (JPN)

No. 1 at 55kg: Helen Maroulis (USA)

No. 2 at 53kg: Sofia Mattsson (SWE)

No. 3 at 53kg: Odunayo Adekuoroye (NGR)

No. 4 at 53kg: Zhong Xuechun (CHN)

No. 5 at 53kg: Jong Myong-Suk (PRK)

No. 6 at 53kg: Nina Hemmer (GER)

No. 8 at 53kg: Yulia Khavaldzhy (UKR)

No. 8 at 58kg: Natalya Sinishin (AZE)

No. 9 at 53kg: Betzabeth Arguello (VEN)

No. 10 at 53kg: Katarzyna Krawczyk (POL)

No. 11 at 53kg: Bediha Gun (TUR)

No. 15 at 53kg: Maria Prevolaraki (GRE)

No. 17 at 53kg: Isabelle Sambou (SEN)

No. 18 at 53kg: Jillian Gallays (CAN)

No. 18 at 55kg: Joseph Essombe Tiako (CMR)

No. 19 at 53kg: Nguyen Thi Lua (VIE)

NR: Kumari Babita (IND)

NR: Erdenechimeg Sumiya (MGL)


Recent Olympic/world champions in the field

2012 Olympic champion (55kg): Saori Yoshida (JPN)

2013 world champion (55kg): Saori Yoshida (JPN)

2014 world champion (53kg): Saori Yoshida (JPN)

2015 world champion (53kg): Saori Yoshida (JPN)

2015 world champion (55kg): Helen Maroulis (USA)


Team USA

Helen Maroulis is the reigning world champion at the non-Olympic weight class of 55kg. She has dropped down to the 53kg division for Rio and is considered one of the leading favorites for gold along with three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida.


Bracket
View the full 53kg bracket


Women's 63kg


Pre-Olympic world rankings of entrants

No. 1 at 63kg: Yulia Tkach (UKR)

No. 2 at 63kg: Soronzonbold Battsetseg (MGL)

No. 3 at 63kg: Risako Kawai (JPN)

No. 4 at 63kg: Maria Mamashuk (BLR)

No. 5 at 63kg: Anastasija Grigorjeva (LAT)

No. 6 at 63kg: Danielle Lappage (CAN)

No. 7 at 63kg: Xu Rui (CHN)

No. 8 at 63kg: Taybe Yusein (BUL)

No. 9 at 63kg: Blessing Oborududu (NGR)

No. 10 at 63kg: Marianna Sastin (HUN)

No. 11 at 63kg: Hafize Sahin (TUR)

No. 12 at 63kg: Inna Trazhukova (RUS)

No. 13 at 63kg: Yekaterina Larionova (KAZ)

No. 14 at 63kg: Henna Johansson (SWE)

No. 14 at 63kg at 69kg: Elena Pirozhkova (USA)

No. 16 at 63kg: Lais Oliveira (BRA)

No. 16 at 63kg at 60kg: Hela Riabi (TUN)

No. 18 at 63kg: Monika Michalik (POL)

NR: Adela Hanzlickova (CZE)


Recent Olympic/world champions in the field

2013 world champion (59kg): Marianna Sastin (HUN)

2014 world champion (63kg): Yulia Tkach (UKR)

2015 world champion (63kg): Soronzonbold Battsetseg (MGL)


Team USA

Elena Pirozhkova will be competing at her second Olympics. She won a world title in 2012 and holds four medals overall from world championship events. Pirozhkova lost her first match of the London Games in her Olympic debut.


Bracket
View the full 63kg bracket


Women's 75kg


Pre-Olympic world rankings of entrants

No. 1: Adeline Gray (USA)

No. 2: Erica Wiebe (CAN)

No. 3: Vasilisa Marzaliuk (BLR)

No. 4: Aline Ferreira (BRA)

No. 5: Ekaterina Bukina (RUS)

No. 6: Yasemin Adar (TUR)

No. 7: Andrea Olaya (COL)

No. 8: Epp Mae (EST)

No. 9: Alla Cherkasova (UKR)

No. 10: Cynthia Vescan (FRA)

No. 12: Zsanett Nemeth (HUN)

No. 14: Guzel Manyurova (KAZ)

No. 16: Jarimit Weffer (VEN)

No. 17: Maria Selmaier (GER)

No. 19: Rio Watari (JPN)

NR: Annabel Laure Ali (CMR)

NR: Samar Hamza (EGY)

NR: Zhang Fengliu (CHN)


Recent Olympic/world champions in the field

2013 world champion (72kg): Zhang Fengliu (CHN)

2014 world champion (75kg): Adeline Gray (USA)

2015 world champion (75kg): Adeline Gray (USA)


Team USA

Adeline Gray is a three-time world champion and a heavy favorite to win gold in this division. She holds a 38-match winning streak and has not lost in over two years.


Bracket
View the full 75kg bracket



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