The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, with the Paralympic Games following Aug. 25-Sept. 6, and while they may be months away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.
NEW YORK -- Kyle Snyder isn’t looking for a complete remodel but, rather, just a few slight modifications.
The need for a change came after September’s wrestling world championships in Kazakhstan. Anticipating a third consecutive 97 kg. title-bout showdown with Russia’s Abdulrashid Sadulaev, Snyder instead fell in the semis to claim a bronze medal.
For a guy who became the youngest U.S. wrestler to win a world title in 2015 and then the youngest to win an Olympic gold medal in 2016, but then went gold-silver-bronze in the following three world championships, it was clear that changes were needed as he prepares for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Snyder, who was also a three-time NCAA champion at Ohio State and continued to train there after his college career ended in 2018, announced on Twitter last month that he would be leaving his alma mater to continue his training at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. Snyder, who turns 24 on Nov. 20, said he met with the Penn State coaching staff, including 2004 Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson, and determined the change of scenery could be exactly what he needed to defend his Olympic gold medal.
Thank you. pic.twitter.com/MgujR7Awti— Kyle Snyder (@Snyder_man45) October 10, 2019
“In general, anytime you have a change, it’s difficult, and I feel that I always improve in those difficult environments. The more difficult the environment, the better for me,” Snyder told TeamUSA.org on Saturday at the Bill Farrell Memorial International Open in New York City. “It’s not like I couldn’t have continued to improve there (at Ohio State), but I was getting the same feel and it was the same eyes looking at me.”
Kyle Snyder after winning a match at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 10, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
Now with those fresh eyes looking at him, Snyder said his aim is to simply refine a few skills, not redefine himself as a wrestler.
“It’ll be an improved Kyle,” he said. “It’s not going to be a complete remodel of my wrestling, but I’m going to be adding a lot of different attacks and continuing to refine my defense.”
Casey Cunningham, assistant coach for Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, agreed, saying that with Snyder’s resume, it’s pointless to try and turn him into a different wrestler.
“He’s a world and Olympic champion; it’s just working on a few things that we can help him with that are maybe a little different and maybe that can help him with his wrestling,” Cunningham said. “He wants to learn, he wants to try new stuff, and he’s trying new stuff in competition. I think we can help him, but how do you help a world and Olympic champion?'
“We’ll just try not to screw him up too bad I guess,” Cunningham said with a laugh.
So what exactly is the four-time world medalist trying to improve?
“People can try to figure out the differences on their own, I don’t want to talk about it,” he said with a laugh.
Even though he’s only been at Penn State — the site of April’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials — for roughly a month, he said the switch has started as hoped.
“Training has been good and I’m getting a new perspective on wrestling and working with different people,” Snyder said. “Having different training partners has been really been beneficial to me, so I feel like I’m improving.”
Snyder said that one of the biggest benefits of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club is an environment where has an entire “team” of guys with the same goal as him — to win world and Olympic gold medals.
“They have a really solid training center team and environment,” he said. “I think there’s 14 guys training to win Olympic and world championships, and it’s nice to be around people that are like-minded, and not just a couple of them, but a whole team of guys like that. You’re constantly getting new feels and getting put in new positions.”
Cunningham said that adding a presence like Snyder to the club’s wrestling room is also helping the other members of the club, including 2018 world champion David Taylor, two-time senior world team member Zain Retherford, 2019 U23 world champion Bo Nickal and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner.
This past weekend, Snyder was able to work on some new attacks and “starting with more of a sense of urgency” for the first time when he competed for the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club at the Bill Farrell Memorial International Open. Snyder won gold by outscoring his three opponents by a combined score of 31-0.
“I thought I wrestled well. I wrestled a little differently than I have previously in my career, even just the way I felt was a little different,” Snyder said. “But I’m always learning, whether I win or lose, so even though I won and wrestled well, there’s still things that I can do better and more efficiently.”
The highest-placing finisher in each weight class at the Bill Farrell Open was awarded a spot at the Olympic trials, though Snyder had already qualified based on his performances at recent world championships.
Snyder said that he still entered the tournament because he felt that he hasn’t gotten as many matches as he would like to, so he feels that competing in such tournaments will benefit him in the long run. Snyder is also planning to compete in the Alans International in Russia next month, a Rankings Series tournament in Rome in January and the Pan-American Championships in March before April’s Olympic trials.
He said that through those tournaments, win or lose, he’s just looking to improve in hopes of ending up with another gold medal around his neck next summer.
“I’m always going to go back, figure out what I need to do to wrestle better, refine, and then go apply it,” he said. “If I continue to do that, no matter what the competition is, I’m going to wrestle well.”