IOWA CITY, Iowa - It's a classic border-rival thing: Sports fans in Iowa usually abhor anything or anyone connected with the University of Nebraska. But when former Cornhusker Jordan Burroughs took the mat on Saturday night at the Olympic wrestling trials, the crowd of 13,520 at Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena put those sentiments aside and cheered him.
Then Burroughs, from Sicklerville, N.J., and Winslow Township High in Camden County, added one more achievement to his ascending career. The defending world champion, Burroughs defeated Andrew Howe of Cedar Lake, Ind., and the University of Wisconsin by injury default to make his first Olympic team at 163 pounds. Howe limped off with a knee injury after Burroughs won the first match of their best-of-three final.
"It was definitely different, and not the way I wanted to make the team," said Burroughs, 23, whose right sock covered the bottom half of a Nebraska "N" tattoo. "I didn't even know he was injured. The coaches came to me and said he hurt himself during the match. I'm a natural competitor, so it's not always fun to win this way."
In the championship format, each match is divided into three two-minute periods. Unless decided by a pin, a wrestler must outpoint his opponent in two of the three periods to win. In that first match, Burroughs took the first period, 4-2, with an early three-point takedown, and scored the only point of the decisive third period by driving Howe out of the ring.
Howe's default gave Burroughs his ninth consecutive tournament win without losing a match. With his parents, Leroy and Janice, and sister Jenerra among family and friends in the crowd, Burroughs returned to the mat later to have his hand officially raised in victory. That drew more applause - uncommon here for an ex-Cornhusker.
"I've built up a pretty good fan base," said Burroughs, Nebraska's first two-time NCAA champion. "Now that I represent the U.S. and not the Huskers, I'll build up a bigger fan base. Everybody roots for the same team."
Howe ranked second behind Burroughs on the U.S. national team the last two years. He advanced easily through the challenge tournament earlier in the day, winning all three matches without losing a period or giving up a point.
Trials rules stacked the deck for Burroughs to qualify for London. World championship freestyle medalists automatically advance to the trials final, so Burroughs sat out the challenge tournament.
That world medal also afforded Burroughs a second chance in case Howe upset him. Trials protocol permitted Burroughs to claim the Olympic berth if he beat Howe in an international tournament to be determined before the Games.
He never needed it.
"I always expected to make the team," Burroughs said.
In other weight classes, Jake Varner of State College beat Tommy Rowlands at 212 pounds; Clearfield (Pa.) High School product Timothy Taylor fell one victory short of advancing from the challenge tournament in Greco-Roman 264.5 pounds; Steve Andrus of Manhattan, Kan. eliminated him in the final.
Penn assistant coach Matt Valenti of Stillwater, N.J., lost to eventual champion Coleman Scott in the 132-pound semifinals - the same Scott whom he beat in 2007 for his second NCAA Championship.
Three more locals wrestle on Sunday: women's freestyler Leigh Jaynes (Rancocas Valley High School) in 138.75 pounds; Moises Hernandez (Vineland High School) in Greco-Roman 211.5 pounds; and Frank Perrelli of Hackettstown, N.J. at 121 pounds.