Kyle Snyder trained his whole life for one moment, and when it arrived he didn’t disappoint.
The Ohio State wrestler became the youngest United States wrestler to win a gold medal, defeating Khetag Gazyumov of Azerbaijan 2-1 in the 97 kg (213.8 pounds) freestyle final just six weeks after losing to him in the Grand Prix of Germany.
His victory at the 2016 Olympics capped a remarkable 18-month stretch in which Snyder suffered his most devastating defeat and responded by building himself into the top wrestler in the world at his weight class.
Favored to win the NCAA final at 197 pounds as a freshman in 2015, Snyder instead suffered a shocking pin at the hands of Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson. Two months later he defeated reigning gold medalist Jake Varner in the U.S. Open final, and he followed up that breakthrough by winning the world wrestling championship in Sept. 2015. He kept rolling and defeated Varner in the best-of-three final at the Olympic Trials in April to clinch his spot in Brazil.
“Sometimes growth happens when you lose,” said Lou Rosselli, who coaches Snyder at the Ohio Regional Training Center. “I think that loss (to Gadson) catapulted him into a different mindset. He was undefeated in high school and doesn’t have very many Ls on his record, so I think that loss probably helped him become a world champion. He tortured himself to make sure people knew he was the best. I remember telling him at the time, ‘If losing a wrestling match is the worst thing that ever happens to you, thank God.’ From that moment on, he was operating at a different level.”
Snyder earned the gold medal in his trademark fashion, wearing opponents down and besting them when they could no longer keep up with his relentless effort. He took down Cuba’s Javier Cortina 10-3 in the round of 16 and then shut out Romania’s Albert Saritov 7-0 in the quarterfinals. After falling down 4-0 to Elizbar Odikadze of Georgia in the semifinals, Snyder clawed his way back into it and then destroyed Odikadze over the last two minutes of the match to win 9-4.
“Probably his greatest asset, after his mind, is his motor,” said Ohio State wrestling coach Tom Ryan. “His tempo is so high that other guys cannot slow him down. They will try to hold on to him and slow him down, but he cannot allow that to happen. As the match goes on it seems like he’s getting faster and his opponent is getting slower, but the reality is that his pace has stayed the same and his opponent cannot handle the pace of the match. They get tired, and that’s when openings occur.
“He’s won so many matches by being a high-tempo guy. He knows that at some point they won’t be able to hold off his attacks.”
That was the case at the Olympics, and Snyder has the gold medal to prove it.