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Tamyra Mensah-Stock Becomes 1st U.S. Black Woman To Win Wrestling Gold

Team USA's Tamyra Mensah-Stock displays her gold medal Tuesday after the women's 68-kilogram freestyle wrestling final at the Tokyo Olympics.
Tom Pennington
Getty Images
Team USA's Tamyra Mensah-Stock displays her gold medal Tuesday after the women's 68-kilogram freestyle wrestling final at the Tokyo Olympics.

U.S. wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock closed out her first Olympics in dominating style Tuesday, winning gold in the women's 68-kilogram freestyle final. She is only the second woman — and the first Black woman — to win an Olympic wrestling gold for the United States.

The top-seeded Mensah-Stock defeated second-seed Blessing Oborududu 4-1 after seizing points with two takedowns in the first period. Neither athlete scored a point in the second period despite Oborududu's increasingly desperate attempts.

Both athletes make history

By winning silver, Oborududu became the first Nigerian athlete to win an Olympic medal in wrestling.

After the match, Mensah-Stock, 28, commented on the historic elements of her final with Oborududu.

"I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, look at us representing,' " Mensah-Stock said, according to The Associated Press. "It's so freaking awesome. You're making history, I'm making history. We're making history. So it meant a lot."

She also spoke about her desire to inspire Black girls to pursue wrestling and her family's heritage in Ghana, where her father was from. Mensah-Stock lost her father while she was in high school — he died in a car crash coming home from a wrestling meet, according to Team USA.

"He would have been the loudest one here," she said. "He would have been so proud."

Emotions hit hard with win

Mensah-Stock curled her hands into a heart-shaped gesture immediately after her win, smiling and bowing to the small crowd in the Makuhari Messe Hall outside Tokyo. She then hugged her coaches and grabbed a large U.S. flag, which she held high above her head.

Several times on the mat and on the podium, Mensah-Stock broke into tears.

"I'm feeling very happy and I keep trying not to cry, but it keeps happening," she said, according to a release from Team USA. "I just want to go into a dark room and cry, but I'm crying from joy."

Mensah-Stock overcame a brutal draw

To reach the final, Mensah-Stock, who is from Katy, Texas, blitzed her way through a tough draw.

Her first match was against Sara Dosho of Japan — the 2016 Olympic gold medalist and 2017 world champion. She then moved on to China's Feng Zhou, who pulled out a surprise win against Mensah-Stock in early 2020. Both of those elite opponents failed to score a point against the American in Japan, who beat them each by a 10-0 score.

In her semifinal match, Mensah-Stock faced another former world champion in Alla Cherkasova of Ukraine. After falling behind, she recovered late to win 10-4.

The gold medal caps a long quest for Mensah-Stock, who finished first in U.S. Olympic team trials ahead of the Rio Olympics but was unable to compete because the U.S. had not qualified to earn a spot in her weight class. She traveled to Brazil for the Games but only as a training partner.

It's the second medal for the U.S. women in Tokyo, coming one day after five-time world champion Adeline Gray won silver in the 76-kilogram category. Helen Maroulis, who won Team USA's first gold medal in women's wrestling in 2016, is slated to wrestle late Wednesday morning (local time) in Japan.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.