RIO DE JANEIRO — Kyle Snyder capped of an incredible calendar year with an Olympic gold medal in Sunday’s 97 kg. final at Carioca Arena 2.
Snyder, the reigning world champion and NCAA champion, became the youngest U.S. wrestler ever to win Olympic gold at age 20. He defeated Azerbaijan’s Khetag Goziumov, 2-1, to give America its second-straight Olympic gold medal in the division.
“I was happier than I’ve ever been on a wrestling mat,” Snyder said afterward.
He climbed into the stands after the final bell to celebrate with his family and friends. He signed a Vinicius doll, one of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games mascots, and tossed it to a young fan in the crowd after receiving his medal.
Eleven months ago, Snyder became the youngest U.S. wrestler to win a world title when he took home the title at 19 in September. In March, he won the 2016 NCAA heavyweight championship after finishing as the national runner-up his freshman year.
Snyder earned his spot on the Olympic team by beating Jake Varner, the defending Olympic gold medalist, at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling in April. Before he knew he’d have a spot on the Olympic team, he had a calendar on his phone counting down the days until the Olympics. He broke his phone and had to get a new one multiple times, so he had to make several countdowns.
“Life seems fast,” Snyder said. “Everything has gone by so fast.”
Snyder surpassed Henry Cejudo, who won gold at the age of 21 at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, as the youngest U.S. gold medalist wrestler. His medal also marked the 50th gold won by U.S. freestyle wrestlers.
Snyder and Goziumov had met once before, when Snyder dropped a 2-1 match to Goziumov in the semifinals of the German Grand Prix in July. Goziumov, 33, entered the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a combined seven world and Olympic medals.
This time, Snyder led 1-0 at the half and went up 2-0 when the shot clock expired on Goziumov. His lead was cut to 2-1 when his own shot clock expired with under a minute to wrestle. But there was no way Snyder was going to let Goziumov score again to win the rematch and a gold medal.
“The big adjustment [from the last fight] was me scoring in the first period instead of him,” Snyder said. “He was really strong underneath there. I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is crazy strong in that position.’ But, I wasn’t going to let another point go up on that board unless it was me scoring it.”
While Snyder has won three of the biggest championships — NCAAs, worlds and the Olympics — USA Wrestling national freestyle coach Bruce Burnett does not expect Snyder to be satisfied.
“You’re not going to find a better student of a sport than Kyle Snyder,” Burnett said. “He embraces the work ethic. He embraces the challenge. He embraces the hard work that it gets to get where he is. … He’ll come back and compete, and I’m really confident in him.”
The Woodbine, Maryland, native also owns gold from wins at the 2015 Pan American Games and 2015 U.S. Open. He won a bronze medal at the 2014 junior world championships and captured gold at the 2013 junior world championships.
For Snyder, it’s back to Ohio State for the fall semester of his junior year. After making weight yesterday, he received an email from a professor telling him about the books he needed to buy.
Classes, tests and more titles are sure to be on the horizon for the Olympic champion.
Frank Gogola is a student in the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.