STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — J’den Cox walked off the mat after dropping a 2-2 decision to Kollin Moore at the U.S. Olympic wrestling trials on Friday night, leaving his shoes behind to a standing ovation.

The bronze medal winner at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 was beaten by the fourth-seeded Moore and promptly retired.

The 29-year-old Cox is a two-time world champion and three-time NCAA champion for Missouri. He decided to call it quits after being defeated.

“I think if I’m losing to guys I was beating before, I’m doing a disservice to myself and them to stay a part of it,” Cox said after the match. “It’s hard, I love this sport, but, you know, I’ve had a great career.”

Leaving wrestling shoes in the middle of the mat is the universal sign of retirement in the sport. After Cox shook Moore’s hand, he looked around at the fans before kneeling to untie his shoes.

Cox blew a kiss to the crowd and hugged his coach on the way out.

By the end of competition on Saturday night, 13 U.S. wrestlers will have earned spots on the U.S. team for the Paris Olympics. Five others will move on to an international qualifying tournament next month in Istanbul.

The trials are being held at the Bryce Jordan Center on Penn State’s campus, home to the three-time defending champion Nittany Lion wrestling team. The crowd was full of Penn State fans, who did the school’s signature “We Are!” cheer at one point as two former Nittany Lion wrestlers, Nick Lee and Zain Retherford, won on adjacent mats.

STILL TICKIN’

Forty-four-year-old Aliaksandr Kikiniou advanced to the 77-kilogram finals in the Greco-Roman bracket by beating Benji Peak in the semifinals. Following an exhausting 7-6 match, both wrestlers lay on the mat for a long moment.

Kikiniou, who was born in Belarus, will face Kamal Bey, who at 26 is 18 years younger, on Saturday. The winner will advance to the international qualifying tournament.

Kikiniou’s last Olympic appearance was at the 2012 London Olympics. His first was 20 years ago at in Athens at the 2004 Summer Games.

ALMOST

At 65 kilograms, Jesse Mendez outperformed his initial seeding.

Mendez, who is currently wrapping up his sophomore year at Ohio State, was seeded 11th entering Friday night.

He rattled off three consecutive wins against No. 6 Joey McKenna, No. 3 James Green and No. 2 Yianni Diakomihalis.

Mendez seemed to wrestle better as the seeding of his opponents got higher. Mendez posted a 12-7 decision win over Diakomihalis.

But the run came to an end against current 70-kilogram world champion Zain Retherford in the semifinals. Mendez fell just short 3-2. Retherford will face Nittany Lion Wrestling Club teammate Nick Lee on Saturday.

74-KILOGRAM CHAOS

Jason Nolf took down Jordan Burroughs 3-0 to win the 74-kilogram challenger bracket and earned the right to face Kyle Dake on Saturday.

Burroughs, an Olympic champ in 2012, faced three current or former Penn State wrestlers for a berth in the finals in front of the partisan Nittany Lions-favoring crowd. After a chippy 8-3 victory over Mitchell Mesenbrink, he was met with boos frequently on the mat.

A second-period takedown was the difference for Nolf, as he rode that cushion to victory. Nolf’s defense was impenetrable against the six-time world champion.

Now, Nolf will face Dake, a four-time world champion, in a best-of-three series.

___

Zach Allen is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.

More Olympics

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME