Kyle Snyder: Olympic Champion

In September, 2015, Steve Snyder was pensive as he headed to a celebratory dinner with family. Still a little stunned by what his 19 year old son had just accomplished, he could not help but fret for the future.

As a newly crowned World Wrestling Champion in Las Vegas, Kyle Snyder now faced the pressure that comes with a title in a year long run up to the Olympics, and dad Steve knew it. With more dread than joy in his voice, Steve concluded, “we all have to process what this is about.”

Kyle Snyder.  Courtesy,

Kyle Snyder. Courtesy,

The year that followed was eventful: a convincing loss to menacing Russian Anzor Boltukaev in January preceded a joyous NCAA triumph in Madison Square Garden. Then a comeback win against reigning Olympic champ Jake Varner in the Olympic Trials preceded a close loss in Germany to Khetag Gazyumov, the man Snyder has just vanquished in the biggest match of Snyder’s young life.


In becoming the youngest Olympic champ in American history (besting Henry Cejudo by a few months), Snyder showed the same things that has propelled his success: the ability to experiment and learn from defeat, the ability to out process an opponent’s thinking in the heat of battle and a motor that just never stops as those of opponents sputter.

The bout with Gazyumov was tense, power packed and strategic. No takedown was earned, yet Snyder struck when he could, resulting in a first point pushout, and backed out of danger when the single leg was not there. Kyle took heed of a warning, avoided the shot clock and earned the Olympic winner by putting his opponent on the clock.

The action was furious and maddening as the seconds ticked away. Everyone panicked except a 20 year old from Woodbine, MD.

It has been a wild year for Kyle Snyder–the highs were epically high. The lows were few and far between, almost like whispers of doubt and dread. But while they caused anxiety among critics and those close to Kyle, the champ himself never let them factor into his focus on the mission.

Steve, the wait and weight are done and gone. Rest easy. Lightly lies the crown.

Buckeye Kyle Snyder Wrestles for Gold

Accomplishing what no other American male has done at these 2016 Rio Olympics Games 20 year old Ohio State Junior Kyle Snyder will wrestle for gold.

Kyle Snyder.  Photo by Josephine Gartrell

Kyle Snyder. Photo by Josephine Gartrell

Snyder overcame an early four point throw by sixth ranked Elizbar Okidaze of Georgia to earn the right to face Azerbaijani Khetag Gazyumov, ranked third in the world. Gazyumov, himself a world champ, narrowly beat Snyder in July in the German Grand Prix semifinals.

Snyder started his day with convincing wins, first 10-3 over 19th ranked Javier Cortina of Cuba, then 7 zip over Albert Saritov, the 15th ranked 2011 Silver medalist from Romania.

Those wins set up a semi encounter with Okidaze. Snyder needed a last second takedown in June to beat Okidaze by tiebreaks at the World Cup in Los Angeles.

Snyder has had to fend off upper body throw attempts all day. Finally Okidaze connected, barely exposing Snyder’s back to the mat. Snyder trailed by four at the break. But then the 20 year old motor of the Ohio Regional Training Center prodigy took over. After three successive push out points it was obvious Snyder was taking control. Before I could tweet that observtion, Snyder had accomplished the go ahead takedown. Fighting off a dangerous scramble, Snyder nearly put Okidaze on his back, walking away with nine straight points to win 9-4 in a three minute Shermanesque pillaging of the defenseless Georgian.

As was true in the 2015 World Championships, Snyder truthfully has not had to contend with the toughest of brackets, though Okidaze is obviously a serious contender. But unlike the World Championships, there is some minimal seeding in 2016, and Snyder obviously earned his top seed. In Gazyumov he faces one of only two wrestlers to beat Snyder since the 2015 World Championships. It was widely thought Anzor Boltukaev, the other victor over Snyder would advance to face Snyder in the gold medal match. However, 30 year old Boltukaev of the doping plagued Russian Federation, was upset 8-5 in the round of 16 by eighth ranked Valeri Andriitsev of Ukraine.

Imposing Khetag Gazyumov of Azerbaijan awaits Kyle Snyder in the Olympic Gold medal match.  Courtesy, Gettyimages

Imposing Khetag Gazyumov of Azerbaijan awaits Kyle Snyder in the Olympic Gold medal match. Courtesy, Gettyimages

In Saturday’s action, Ohio Regional Training Center’s other medal contender Tervel Dlagnev gave a heroic effort but his chronically bad back stood in his way. After toying with his first two opponents and looking sharp, it was obvious he had been badly hurt in his semi-final match, giving up a quick takedown and four match ending gut wrenches. Really unable to go in the bronze match, he settled for an honorable fifth when the same fate awaited him in that bronze match.

On Deck for Olympic Wrestling: Ohio

From a big picture perspective, American wrestling got a huge boost from an unlikely source. Helen Maroulis of Maryland not only became the first American woman to win a gold in Olympic wrestling, she did so by beating 13 consecutive world champion and Japanese flag bearer in the 2012 London games, Saori Yoshida. Although Yoshida is 33 years old, few thought she was susceptible of not winning gold in Rio.

Women’s success in wrestling is certainly a shot in the arm at so many levels including the new found publicity, advancing the perception and continuing to give growth to women’s collegiate wrestling, which in the end can only help the men’s game.

But in the moment, the Rio games so far have been a vast disappointment. Not much was expected from the American Greco team, and indeed, not much was delivered. The team was shut out from a medal perspective.

But freestyle was a different story. While Daniel Dennis was not perceived as a threat to win gold, his story is compelling and he certainly had a shot at a medal. Dennis is a man with a winning gut wrench–just ask Tony Ramos. However, in not much more more than a minute into his opening match with Dubov of Bulgaria, he was taken down and quickly turned four times for the loss on technical superiority. When Dubov squandered a four point lead in the semis, it appears 28 year old Dennis’ Olympic career is done.

More shocking however was the failure to medal for defending Olympic and world champion Jordan Burroughs. Burroughs perhaps spent more time getting blood cleaned from his head than wrestling, but whatever the cause, he started slowly. A first period shot clock point was the difference in a 3-2 loss to Aniuar Geduev of Russia.

The crazy random seeding of the Olympics (it is my understanding a computer generated random bracket number is given to each wrestler as they weigh in) had No. 1 Burroughs going against No. 2 Geduev. When Geduev overcame his own 4-0 deficit to win 5-4 in his semi match, medal hopes were high for Burroughs. However, he was completely dominated in his repechage match, losing by technical superiority.

Hope is not lost. Missouri senior J’Den Cox has done extremely well on the international circuit since his surprise win at the Olympic Trials–he went out and qualified the class by himself. Where the blind draw may have hurt Burroughs, on paper it lines up very favorably for Cox. I would not be surprised to see him standing on a podium tomorrow night.

But now is time for the Ohio Regional Training Center to flex. Also up tomorrow is long-time American heavy strong man, Tervel Dlagnev. Dlagnev, who will become an Ohio State assistant coach once the Olympics end, has sat out of international competition much of the last two years so as to not reinjure a troublesome back.

Indeed, in the most recent eight nation World Cup in Los Angeles, the US placed second to Iran by tie-breakers. While Jake Varner did a valiant job wrestling up at heavyweight, the US certainly could have benefited from a healthy Tervel.

Dlagnev’s absence has him ranked a mere 14th in the latest UWW rankings, but that is likely very misleading. A two time world bronze medalist, Dlagnev is fully capable of medaling in Rio.

That being said, Dlagnev’s draw is brutal. He likely will open with the reigning world silver medalist. If he could forge his way to a win, he would face the survivor of a bracket of death which contains the No. 1 and 2 ranked wrestlers in the world and a 2014 silver medalist.

The task ahead is brutally difficult for Dlagnev but he is fully capable of the surprise.

Saturday will be an interesting day. My calendar says Sunday is the following day, and that is when the second half of the Ohio Regional Training Center dynamic duo, Kyle Snyder, takes the stage.