||HERNING, Denmark – It was a heartbreaking finish to a tournament filled with frustrating moments for the U.S. women’s freestyle team.
18-year-old Adeline Gray won the first period and had the lead late in the second period before suffering a tough three-period loss to Nigeria’s Ifeoma Iheanacho in the bronze-medal match at 67 kg/147.5 lbs.
Gray places fifth in her first World Championships after falling Friday night at the MesseCenter Herning.
The U.S. fell short of winning a medal as a team for the first time since it starting attending World Championships for women’s freestyle in 1989.
The Americans had three wrestlers – Gray, Tatiana Padilla and Deanna Rix – finish fifth here. Padilla was third in the World in 2008 and Rix fifth. Padilla is 18 as well.
Azerbaijan won a close battle for the team title. Azerbaijan had 42 points while Japan and Canada had 37 apiece. Japan is second by virtue of two champs to one for Canada. The U.S. finished sixth with 24 points.
“We're finishing a lot of matches trying not to lose,” U.S. National Coach Terry Steiner said, “We have to win. We have to wrestle to dominate. We have to take some risks and right now, we're not doing that as a team. These athletes are great athletes, they're great learners. They're students of the sport.
“I firmly believe this group of athletes, we can win with them. We can win with these people. We need to continue to sharpen each other and be a team. We haven't been 'a team' for a while. We need to get together and push each other.”
Gray bolted to an 8-1 first-period lead, nearly pinning Iheanacho after turning her to her back with an arm bar and stepping over her head. Gray, who just graduated from high school, said she was about “an inch” away from gaining the fall.
“It was so close,” Gray said. “She had a lot of strength and flexibility in her shoulders. I couldn’t quite get it.”
Gray charged out strong in the second period as well, leading 2-1 with under 30 seconds left. Gray fought off Iheanacho before finally getting pushed out of bounds with 14 seconds left. The Nigerian won the period by virtue of scoring last.
Gray couldn’t recover and lost the third period 2-0.
“That's where I made my mistake. I was thinking more about that first and second period, and didn't go out there and wrestle that third period,” Gray said. “That's what I have to work on, just putting it away.”
Gray knows she belongs on this stage.
“I can compete. I can beat these girls,” she said. “I just have to learn how to be consistent and do it every time.”
Canada’s Martine Dugrenier won her second straight World title at 67 kg/147.5 lbs. Iran’s Hamid Soryan won his fourth straight World title in Greco-Roman at 55 kg/121 lbs.
Three more U.S. Greco-Roman wrestlers – Jeremiah Davis (60 kg/132 lbs.), Chas Betts (84 kg/185 lbs.) and R.C. Johnson (96 kg/211.5 lbs.) – are scheduled to compete on Saturday.
The seven-day event concludes on Sunday.