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Helen Maroulis becomes first US female wrestler to qualify for three Olympic teams

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Helen Maroulis, the first American woman to win a wrestling gold medal, became the first U.S. female wrestler to qualify for three Summer Games as she earned a spot Saturday night on the American team for Paris.

Maroulis, competing at 57 kilograms, dominated former Olympian Jacarra Winchester in a best-of-three series.

The two-time Olympic medalist Maroulis topped Winchester with a pin in the first match and a 6-0 decision in the second, sweeping the series. With a bloodied nose, Maroulis bowed to a sea of cheering fans before having her arm raised by the official at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State's campus.

“It just makes me think back to myself as a little girl, and if you told me that I was gonna do this, I don’t think I would’ve believed you,” Maroulis said, adding she wasn’t aware she was breaking a record.

Maroulis became the first woman wrestler to win two Olympic medals for the United States when she earned bronze at 57 kg in Tokyo. Now 32, she captured her gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I definitely think that I’m coming into a peak season right now,” Maroulis said.

A Maryland native, Maroulis wrestles and trains with the powerhouse Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club in Arizona.

Winchester was an Olympian for the United States at 53 kg in Tokyo and was a world champion in 2019 at 55 kg. Winchester was originally slated to wrestle at 53 kg but didn’t make the weight cutoff, forcing her up to 57 kg.

All six of the women who were earning spots on the U.S. team Saturday qualify directly for the Olympic tournament in Paris this summer, avoiding an international qualifying tournament.

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Kaleb Boyer is a journalism student at Penn State University.

Kaleb Boyer, The Associated Press