LAS VEGAS -- Wrestler Kyle Snyder does not listen to music as he’s warming up to compete.
In high school, a coach asked him, “Do lions listen to music before they hunt?”
“No, they don’t,” Snyder responded.
“Then why are you listening to music?” his coach retorted.
It’s an approach that is paying off in dividends for the 97 kg. freestyle wrestler.
Like a lion on the hunt for gold, the 19-year-old became USA Wrestling’s youngest-ever world champion when he took home the title at the 2015 World Wrestling Championships Friday night.
Ranked 15th in the world entering the tournament this week, Snyder defeated all five of his opponents in Vegas, including 2013 world bronze medalist Pavlo Oliinyk of Ukraine in the first round, 2-1, and world No. 2 and reigning world champion, Russia’s Abdusalam Gadisov.
Snyder overcame a strong effort by Gadisov, who brought the score to 5-5 with seven seconds left. But Snyder would win it by criteria (he scored more two-point moves than Gadisov).
Competing in his first world championship, Snyder is also the youngest U.S. medalist of any color.
Andre Metzger previously held this record, winning 62 kg. bronze in 1979 at age 19 and 11 months (Snyder is 19 and 10 months).
Snyder, the 2013 junior world champion and 2014 junior world bronze medalist, could not decide if he was more excited to win the world title or do it at a record-breaking age.
“They’re both pretty awesome,” he said of the feat. “I like making history. I want to be known as one of the greatest wrestlers that ever lived and that’s what I plan on doing, but right now probably just being the world champ. It feels good.”
He has been dreaming of becoming world champion for the past five years, when he started to learn more about freestyle wrestling (U.S. wrestlers compete in the non-Olympic folkstyle wrestling through high school).
“2010 is when I started following the world championships and learning about these guys, and once I found out that you could be declared the best wrestler in the world, that’s obviously what I wanted,” Snyder recalled.
In addition to being one of the best in the sport, Snyder is also one of the biggest fans of the sport. He constantly watches videos of all of his competitors – sometimes for fun more than strategy – and is familiar with each of their strengths and weaknesses.
It’s a hobby that has served him well, considering Snyder’s rapid rise in the ranks this season. Competing in his freshman year at Ohio State, he finished second at both the Big Ten and NCAA championships in the spring.
“I wasn't about to take second at Big Ten, second at nationals and come out here and take silver at worlds,” he said. “Not going to happen.”
He continued to put his nose to the grindstone and find ways to improve. At his Pan American Games debut in July, he won gold, putting him on the map internationally.
With Pan Am and world gold already secured, there’s one major international championship left to win: the Olympics.
Snyder’s win in Vegas secured the U.S. a quota spot to compete in the 97 kg. in Rio next summer. Now he has to prepare to compete at next spring’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where he could earn the right to fill that spot.
Fittingly, that preparation will happen at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, under the tutelage of coaches Brandon Slay, 2000 Olympic gold medalist, and Bill Zadick, 2006 world champion.
Snyder first moved to the OTC in 2013, his senior year of high school. He has since returned, taking a redshirt season from Ohio State.
“I tell people all the time if you have the opportunity to (train at the OTC), that’s what you should do,” Snyder said. “I got the chance to wrestle overseas a couple times, get a couple foreign fields, along with wrestling some of the best Americans that we have to offer, along with getting some of the best coaches in coach Slay and coach Zadick. …
“It helped me improve as a wrestler, it made me a better person and it led to me winning this world title.”
Whether he makes it to Rio or not, Snyder has every intention of returning to Ohio State after the 2016 Games. He doesn’t envision it being a problem going from (what he hopes is) Olympic gold back to college life.
“I plan on going back to Ohio State,” he said. “Wrestling’s hard, too, so if I can wrestle the best guys in the world, I should be able to go to class a couple times a day. Homework is no fun, but getting a degree is fun and getting a good job after college is fun.”