By Craig Sesker | Aug. 31, 2017, 11:40 a.m. (ET)
Members of the U.S. men's freestyle wrestling team and staff celebrate after winning the team title at the World Wrestling Championships on Aug. 26, 2017 in Paris.

 

PARIS – Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder, Iowa’s Thomas Gilman and Penn State’s Zain Retherford competed for three of the best college wrestling teams in the country this past season.

Snyder and Retherford finished their junior seasons with national titles, while Gilman completed his standout career as a three-time All-American.

This summer, the three elite wrestlers became teammates with even bigger goals.

This wasn’t about scarlet and gray, black and gold, or blue and white.

This was all about the red, white and blue.

Snyder, Gilman and Retherford were teammates on Team USA for the world championships. And they were part of a men’s freestyle wrestling squad that had an ultimate team moment on the international level when they won the men’s freestyle team title on Saturday in Paris.

“We’re all loyal to our college programs, and that won’t change,” Gilman said. “But when he compete for our country, we’re all about winning for the United States of America. We live in the greatest country in the world, and we’re proud to represent it.”

Even though wrestling is considered mostly an individual sport, as athletes pursue titles in their own weight classes, the team aspect also is important. That was evident when a close-knit U.S. squad captured its first team title in 22 years in dramatic fashion at AccorHotels Arena.

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Snyder, an Olympic and world champion, edged Olympic and two-time world champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev of Russia 6-5 in the final match of the tournament at 97 kg. That broke a 53-53 tie in the team race and gave the U.S. an exciting one-point win over Russia.

Champions in each weight class are awarded 10 points, with silver medalists earning nine points and bronze medalists collecting eight apiece. American Jordan Burroughs won his fourth world title. Gilman and James Green earned silver medals, with Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox and first-time world team member Nick Gwiazdowski adding bronze medals.

“During training camp, we talked about wanting to win the team championship. I wanted to have that championship trophy in my hands,” Burroughs said. “It’s a goal all eight guys on the team had. We knew it was going to be a tough battle with Russia. It’s so awesome to finally win this.”

Gilman comes from the tough, hard-nosed Iowa Hawkeye program, where they have an us-against-everybody-else mentality. But Gilman’s perspective changed after making his first world team this year.

“I learned so much being around the other guys on the world team this summer — it really helped a lot,” Gilman said. “Being around Olympic and world champions like Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder and Logan Stieber helps a lot. You can pick their brains and ask them questions, and you can watch how they train and go about their routines. It’s great having a chance to do that.”

Many of the wrestlers on the world team battled each other in practice. Burroughs and Retherford trained together, as did Snyder and Gwiazdowski.

Green also embraced the team concept.

“These guys not only are my teammates, but we’re close friends and we have a tight bond on this team,” he said. “We get along great, and we support each other and pull for one another. That makes a big difference in a tough, grueling sport like wrestling.”

The matchup between Snyder and Sadulaev lived up to all the pre-match hype. Snyder erased deficits of 3-1 and 5-3 en route to the win in a battle of mega-talented 21-year-olds. Snyder scored a dramatic takedown with 24 seconds remaining to win 6-5 in a thrilling bout in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 8,000 fans. Snyder pounded his chest in celebration while Sadulaev collapsed on the mat and held his hands over his eyes.

“I wasn’t even that nervous — I was more excited than anything,” Snyder said. “I put every ounce of energy I had out on the mat.”

For the first time since 1995, and for only the third time, the U.S. won a world team title in men’s freestyle wrestling.

”It couldn’t have been a more hyped-up situation with everything coming down to the last match and the team title on the line,” Snyder said. “It was an amazing day.”

For Burroughs, it was the first time he had been a part of a team championship on the international level.

“It was huge to win against Russia in the finals with the team title on the line,” Burroughs said. “I came in here wanting to win the team championship, and our guys really came through. It was awesome to be a part of a great team with a bunch of great guys.”

The six U.S. medals in Paris were the most by an American team since the 1995 squad won six medals at the world championships in Atlanta. That was the last time the U.S. won the team title. The other title came in 1993.

Bill Zadick guided the U.S. to the title in his first season as the program’s national freestyle coach.

“This team was very talented, but also very close-knit as well. We had great chemistry, on and off the mat,” Zadick said. “When you do it with eight athletes, and a lot of people dedicating their lives and committing everything they do to this sport, it is pretty amazing.”

Craig Sesker is a sportswriter based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.