Shortly before the 2016 Rio Olympics, Helen Maroulis was training on the beaches of Southern California. And during one of those training sessions, she was joined by an eager 12-year-old girl.

Maroulis went on to make Olympic history in Rio in the most dramatic way possible — she stunned the world by defeating a 13-time world champion to become the first woman from the United States to win Olympic wrestling gold. Five years later, Tamyra Mensah-Stock won gold at the Tokyo Games to continue that win streak for the U.S. women.

Now, as Maroulis prepares for her third (and possibly final) Olympics, that girl she met on a Southern California beach that day — Amit Elor — could be the next one to carry on that legacy, not just this summer in Paris, but potentially for years to come.

The U.S. women's freestyle team is loaded with legitimate medal contenders for the Paris Olympics, but Elor, now 20 years old, is arguably the one with the best chance of coming back with gold.

"I do embrace that status [as a gold medal favorite]," Elor said. "I always hope and expect for myself to win, and I want to do my very best, but I also know that anything can happen at the Olympics — we see that all the time."

One look at Elor's résumé makes it obvious why expectations are so high for her. Throughout her nascent career, she's already accumulated eight world titles across various age groups. That includes back-to-back senior world titles in 2022 and 2023.

Elor started wrestling when she was just four years old. Her older brother was a wrestler at the time, and Elor and her mother would regularly go to his practices. As it turns out, she wasn't content to just be a spectator.

"I was so jealous of him," Elor recalled. "I don't know why, but I really wanted to go on the mat and join him, and I had this urge to wrestle everybody on the mat. I just couldn't stand being on the sidelines and not being able to wrestle."

Even though she was technically too young — the program only accepted kids 5 and older — Elor convinced the coach to let her join, and thus began her journey. Like many girls who join the sport, she mainly wrestled against boys up until high school.

Before the 2016 Rio Games, Elor got word from a friend in Southern California that Maroulis was there doing beach training. She was invited to come join.

"I was so nervous," Elor remembered. "I was just using so much strength and being so stiff just because I couldn't believe that I was training with her."

Elor recalls running on the sand with Maroulis, practicing wrestling drills, and doing bungee drills. According to Elor, wrestling on the sand made for a much harder workout than doing it on the mat because of the balance required for it.

"At the very end, we went in the water and went swimming," Elor said. "It was just a beautiful workout."

As she continued to follow Maroulis's career with awe and excitement — "I was so, so happy for her," she said of watching Maroulis win gold — it wasn't long before Elor started making her own impact on the wrestling world.

As a 15-year-old, she made her first major international tournament appearance at the 2019 Under-17 World Championships and left with a bronze medal. She's gone on to win gold at every U17, U20, U23 or senior world championships she's entered since.

Despite the whirlwind success, there was one problem facing Elor after her most recent world title. The weight class she competed in, 72kg (about 159 lbs.), is a non-Olympic weight class. To make a run at Paris 2024, she either needed to drop down to the 68kg class or move up to the 76kg class, about a nine-pound difference in either direction.

Elor had previously wrestled at 68kg back in 2021, but after a back surgery and some struggles with sciatica caused her to gain some weight, she ended up finding her comfort zone at 72kg. While she concedes that it was a difficult choice to make, Elor eventually decided that her best move would be to return to her former 68kg class.

In order to cut down, Elor had to make changes to her training routine. With her weight training, she started doing fewer reps but using heavier weights. But the biggest adjustment that Elor, a self-described "foodie," had to make was to her diet.

"I think it was a good decision," she concluded. "It's been very difficult for me to diet and not get to enjoy all of my favorite foods as often as I used to, but it's all worth it, right? It's for the Olympics."

That hard work paid off when Elor swept Forrest Molinari in a best-of-three series at Olympic Trials to lock up her spot on the U.S. roster for Paris. Already the youngest American wrestler to win a world or Olympic title, Elor is now the youngest U.S. female wrestler to ever make an Olympic team.

"Being an Olympian in general has been my dream ever since I can remember," Elor said. "So part of it doesn't feel real, I feel really happy. And at the same time, I feel nervous, right? Because it's a big responsibility. I want to go out there and be the very best version of myself. So I'm excited, but at the same time, I have this sense of urgency. I want to prepare and be as good as I possibly can be."

Although Elor's track record indicates she's a gold medal contender, the weight class change means that she will be unseeded for the Olympic tournament. Her path to gold will depend largely on the draw, but she expects to face some tough competition in the early rounds. ("I think every match will be tough, honestly," she admits.)

Known for her hand fighting and her "two-on-one" — a tie-up move that involves grabbing her opponent's arm with both hands — Elor will be a tough out for anyone she faces.

"Anything can happen at any competition," she said. "People get sick, people get injured, people have good days and bad days. If all the stars align, and I really do feel my best and I go out there and I give all my heart, I think I have a really good shot at winning."

Elor's teammates in Paris will include Maroulis, who is once again a medal contender in the 57kg class. Maroulis, who followed up her 2016 gold medal with bronze at the Tokyo Games, will become the oldest U.S. woman to wrestle at the Olympics, as well as the first to wrestle at three separate Olympics.

"We've been on two world teams together, and now we are on an Olympic team together," Elor said of the U.S wrestling legend. "It's so cool when you have idols and role models and one day you get to stand side by side with them."

With wrestlers like Maroulis, Mensah-Stock and Adeline Gray paving the way, women's wrestling has been growing exponentially over the last decade, and Elor has seen the changes first-hand.

"The growth of women's wrestling makes me feel amazing as somebody who grew up wrestling only boys and feeling so isolated," she said. "It's just amazing to witness all the little girls that are wrestling these days and everything that's been happening and how quickly it's been happening too. It's been a long time coming, but to be part of this movement, and to witness it happening is so motivating and heartwarming."

At her young age, Elor could conceivably help fuel the next decade of growth. When asked about how she wants to be remembered 10 years from now, she thought about the next generation of wrestlers coming behind her.

"I hope people can remember me as an Olympic gold medalist," she says. "But I also hope that little girls growing up starting wrestling can see me as a role model, somebody to look up to. I hope that wrestling for them can be normal because somebody like me is wrestling. And I hope that just inspires them. … I hope that whatever I pursue, I do my very best, and I hope that I'm very proud of myself."