• Video Below: Sights and sounds from the Olympic Trials (April 21)
• Photo Showcase: Olympic Wrestling Trials, April 21
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IOWA CITY — It wasn’t how Jordan Burroughs dreamed of becoming an Olympian. But he isn’t complaining, either.
Burroughs became the 10th former Nebraska wrestler to reach his sport’s biggest stage Saturday night when he swept Andrew Howe in the best-of-three-match championship round at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials. The result continues a spectacular run for the two-time NCAA champion, who also claimed a world gold medal last year.
But in an odd twist, Burroughs celebrated his latest accomplishment in the bowels of Carver-Hawkeye Arena rather than on the mat. About half an hour after winning his first match against Howe 4-2, 1-2, 1-0, the former NU standout was informed that his opponent had suffered a knee injury and would default the bout.
“That’s not the way I wanted to win or the way I hoped to win,” Burroughs said. “But part of being the best is staying healthy. I made the team, and I’m going to London.”
Nebraska coach Mark Manning, who still works with Burroughs, said he got a call breaking the news about 10 minutes before it reached the near-capacity crowd of 13,750.
“It is what it is as far as the process to make the Olympic team,” Manning said. “Now he made it. For us, this is one step closer to winning an Olympic championship.”
Burroughs, at 74 kilograms (163 pounds), was one of nine wrestlers to qualify for the Games in London, set for Aug. 5 through 12. Every championship round was decided in a sweep.
Nine more spots will be contested Sunday.
Iowa State graduate Jake Varner won his weight after enjoying a bye into the freestyle finals. A bronze medalist at last year’s World Championships, Varner dispatched Tommy Rowlands 0-1, 2-0, 1-0 and 2-0, 1-0 at 96 kilos (211.5 pounds) after finishing third at the 2008 Olympic Trials.
“I’m going (to London) to win the gold medal or else I wouldn’t be doing this,” Varner said. “I’m just going to be real happy and excited that the work’s paid off and to bring home a gold medal.”
Two other wrestlers with ties to the state of Iowa also reached the finals. Justin Lester, at 66 kilos in Greco-Roman, worked his way past CP Schlatter 1-0, 2-0 and 2-0, 1-2, 1-0 for an Olympic bid. Lester attended Iowa State briefly in the early 2000s.
Jordan Holm, who attended Northern Iowa, fell in the Greco-Roman 84-kilo class 1-0, 0-3, 2-0 and 2-0, 2-0 to Chas Betts despite loud crowd support.
“I think something as painful as this will probably take a few days to kick in all the way,” Holm said. “I’ll probably be feeling it quite a bit over the course of the next few days.”
Burroughs will be breathing relief more than anything. Manning said his wrestler seemed “about 80 percent” while waiting around all day to compete. The 23-year-old himself admitted to some nerves — the most he’s dealt with since the world finals a year ago.
Burroughs had earned three wins before Saturday over Howe, who was taking an Olympic redshirt year at Wisconsin. No. 4 felt a little strange.
“No matter how the process was,” Burroughs said, “as long as the outcome was the same.”