COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State wrestler Kyle Snyder booked his Olympics ticket by beating defending gold medalist Jake Varner at the trials in April, but he paid for it long before then.
“Here’s the best way to describe it for someone who doesn’t follow wrestling,” said USA Wrestling coaching staff member Lou Rosselli, who also coaches Snyder at the Ohio Regional Training Center. “When most people are operating at Level 2, he’s operating at Level 10. He operates at a whole different level in a training session than other wrestlers do. If you came to watch him practice, he would stand out like a sore thumb because of the amount of energy and effort and focus he’s putting into it.
“Anybody in America can see it with their own eyes if they watch him.”
Now 20, Snyder will compete in the 97-kilogram (213.8-pound) freestyle competition Sunday, the last day of the Rio de Janeiro Games. He was just 19 when he became the youngest American to win a world wrestling championship by defeating Russia’s Abdusalam Gadisov.
Normally, Snyder said last month, he doesn’t get that nervous to compete against the best.
The Olympics aren’t normal.
“I think maybe the first match I’ll be a little nervous, but more excited,” he said. “I get really excited to compete, especially in such a big event. It’s something I’ve prepared for so hard this summer, and the summer before that, and the year before that, and before that, and before that. I’ve been preparing for it for a long time.
“I’m excited to put it on the line and show everybody how hard I worked and prove to myself that I’m the best wrestler in the world.”
After three undefeated seasons in high school, Snyder left Olney (Md.) Good Counsel to spend his senior season training at the USOC facilities in Colorado. He said he committed to Ohio State in part because the Ohio Regional Training Center was the finest and gave him the best shot at becoming an Olympian. When Snyder was upset in the NCAA final his freshman year – he figures he probably hadn’t been pinned since middle school – he was back in Columbus the next day lifting weights at the wrestling facility.
According to Rosselli, the prime for an Olympic wrestler is usually ages 24-28. That puts Snyder a full Olympic cycle ahead of schedule.
“Most 19-year-olds, whether they’re capable or not, don’t believe in what they’re doing,” Rosselli said. “They’re good enough, but it just doesn’t happen. Mentally, they’re not ready. Kyle is ready. From the moment he got here, he expected big things and great things. His expectations make him unique. That’s why he’s our youngest world champion ever.”
Snyder’s three biggest accomplishments came despite trailing.
In the world championships, he scored a last-minute takedown of Gadisov and held on to win a 5-5 match on criteria.
In the NCAA championship, he fell behind two-time champion Nick Gwiazdowski 5-3 before managing a two-point takedown with 11 seconds left and winning in sudden-victory overtime.
In the Olympic Trials, he lost the first match of a best-of-three series to Varner and won the final two matches by a combined 10-1.
“As the match goes on, it seems like he’s getting faster and his opponent is getting slower,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said, “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.”
Snyder’s greatest assets, according to Ryan, are “his mind” and then “his motor.”
“I don’t think anyone should be fooled by his success,” Ryan said. “The guy’s work ethic and desire is superhuman. He’s really good for a reason. He thinks and trains at a level that few can.”