J’den Cox doesn’t usually like to express his opinions on social media.
But on Sunday, with nearly all of the sports sphere shut down from COVID-19 and the 2020 Summer Olympics still up in the air, the former Missouri wrestler and Olympic medalist shared on Twitter that he would not be a part of the Games in Tokyo, as scheduled.
Two days later, the International Olympic Committee announced its decision to postpone the Games.
“I’m not going to put somebody’s life or health behind my dream,” Cox told the Missourian on Wednesday. “I’ve never told any of the athletes or anyone that they can’t be angry or they can’t be sad. It’s with a heavy heart that I say these things. It’s not like it doesn’t affect me.”
While Cox said that he wasn’t trying to use his high-profile platform to speak for everyone, he is certainly someone people in the sports world look up to, according to Missouri volunteer assistant coach and United States wrestler Dom Bradley. Both Cox and Bradley, who also intended to compete in the Olympic wrestling qualifiers this summer, said that while their health is important, they don’t want to risk the lives of those who might be more vulnerable to the virus.
“J’den is an amazing person, athlete, wrestler and a great ambassador for the sport,” Bradley said. “I think when they saw a statement by him … that means a lot for a guy who was a two-time world champ and Olympic bronze medalist. If he’s not going to do it, why would most people go?”
As of now, Cox is training at a local park because, like most facilities, the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is closed. He’s embracing the different environment with routines of sprints and lifting.
Since earning a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the Columbia native and Hickman High School product has captured two world titles in the 92kg division. He has since moved to 97 kg for a new challenge.
“I’m at a point in my career where I just need that fight and that test to truly reach my full potential as an athlete and a wrestler,” Cox said. “I felt that 97 had people there that could do that for me and had a lot of challenges in there and I wanted to embrace and face that.”
But will the extra year of preparation — the Tokyo Games will be re-scheduled for some time in 2021 — give Cox more opportunities to get stronger?
“We’re going to have to wait and see on that,” Cox said. “Granted, you would think that maybe putting on a few more pounds would help. But I think my weight is sitting just fine. I was prepared to go and battle.”
From an athlete such as Cox, one might assume that his next goal is an Olympic gold medal. But he doesn’t want to wrestle with that idea in mind.
“If it so happens that in (this) journey, an Olympic gold medal pops up, that’s great,” Cox said. “If it so happens in that journey, I make the Olympic team, that’s wonderful. My goal for myself as a wrestler and as an athlete is to reach my full potential to be the best wrestler I can possibly be.”