If Kyle Snyder’s collegiate wrestling career to date could be summed up as dramatic, his international career has been astounding. For the five or six years preceding 2015, the 96/97kg weight class had been dominated by former Buckeye JD Bergman and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner from Bakersfield, CA.
Ohio State fans were spared the agonizing choice of having to witness a Snyder/Bergman match. In more recent bouts it has been Varner reversing most past results to best Bergman, and then Snyder taking it to Varner, as he did in the 2015 US Open, 2015 US Team Trials and 2016 Olympic Trials.
Of course, sandwiched between the 2015 and 2016 Trials was Snyder’s epic win at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas. Snyder was a bit lucky in the sense that his trip to the finals included matches against challenging opponents who nonetheless paled in comparison to the resumes of the wrestlers in the opposite bracket.
Still, in the semifinals Snyder opposed veteran Abbas Tahan of Iran. With a narrow lead at the end of the match, the American teenager stood at the center and aggressively motioned to a complaining Tahan to stop stalling and return to the mat. Weak bracket or not, the win propelled Snyder to an incomparable trip to the finals against perennial strong man Abdusalam Gadisov of Russia.
Kyle Snyder, currently ranked 4th in the world by United World Wrestling, has several things going for him, including confidence, a constant devotion to the mental aspects of his craft and an unmatched work ethic. But, when combined with those attributes, the thing that makes him a world force is his 20 year old motor, something that was in clear evidence against Varner in their many matches, and against Tahan and Gadisov in that remarkable day in Las Vegas in 2015.
Patented ankle picks staked Snyder to a late lead against Gadisov. Not wishing to get caught in a tragic mistake (as happened to him in the 2015 NCAA finals) and owning the tie break, Snyder simply played it tough from a defensive standpoint to avoid a takedown which would reverse the desired result. When a late, perhaps phantom, pushout brought the score to even at 5, Snyder’s corner wanted to contest the call. Showing poise and mental strength in the heat of battle, Snyder declined to challenge. Knowing he had the older Gadisov on the ropes, Snyder did not want to offer a vital rest recovery despite the fact he might gain a point back.
Few scenes in sport can match what was about to happen when Snyder victoriously blanketed himself with the American flag, circled the mat and fell to his knees in thankful praise.
By ranking, No. 4 Kyle Snyder is not a favorite to win gold this Sunday on the final day of the Rio Olympics. He was beaten somewhat convincingly at a Russian tournament in January by No. 1 Anzor Boltukayev of the doping plagued Russian Federation. He was also beaten narrowly by No. 3 Khetag Gazyumov of Azerbaijan.
But we have seen this before. Snyder has proven to be a student of the game, unafraid to experiment, grow and get stronger. Any one of a dozen wrestlers are capable of winning gold but it really is hard to bet against Snyder.
In the 2016 Olympic Trials Jake Varner came out and won a tightly contested first of three matches with Snyder. Snyder reset his focus for match two and Varner never had a chance from that point on. Snyder has been preparing and focusing on Sunday for enough time now that a new historic chapter seems well within his grasp.