NEW YORK — The video screens of Times Square shining a spotlight down on him, Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs smiled widely for the TV cameras as he described his goals of the last three years: "Trying to become a better interviewee."
The American wrestling star was only sort of joking. After winning his second NCAA title as a senior at Nebraska in 2011, Burroughs soared to the top of the sport, opening his senior-level career with 69 straight victories before his first loss.
And that gold medal in London in 2012 made him a spokesman for wrestling.
"I've kind of been thrust into the spotlight. When I got out of college, I realized I was good and I had something special. But I never would have imagined I'd be the best wrestler the world's seen in a long time," Burroughs said matter-of-factly Thursday after competing in an exhibition in Times Square. "That's really tough to be put in that position. I really had to be groomed into this position that I'm in now, and I think I've done pretty well."
The U.S. beat Cuba 9-4 on a chilly evening in what has become an annual event at various New York City landmarks to benefit youth wrestling organization Beat the Streets. As a New Jersey native, Burroughs particularly loves the location.
Planning for this year's exhibition started before December's announcement that the United States and Cuba were moving to restore diplomatic relations. While the countries are used to competing against each other in the sport, wrestlers and coaches on both sides were pleased to get a chance to come together in such a high-profile setting.
Burroughs beat Luis Esteban Quintana Martinez by technical fall at 163 pounds to wrap up Thursday's matches. Since his victory in London, he's gotten married and become a father. His son is 10 months old, and for now the family is making sacrifices as Burroughs prepares for next year's Rio Olympics.
"Once you've had that feeling and that emotion captured in that moment of jubilation on top of the podium, you're going to spend your whole life chasing it again," he said.
David Taylor is chasing Burroughs, facing the daunting challenge of competing in the same weight class for the Americans. He had an impressive win Thursday, beating Olympic bronze medalist Livan Lopez Azcuy 18-7. Kyle Snyder, 19, defeated world championships bronze medalist Javier Cortina Lacerra 4-0 at 213 pounds in another notable U.S. victory.