Kyle Snyder poses at the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympic shoot on Nov. 23, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Every athlete loves the idea of taking down a reigning champ, and no doubt Kollin Moore entertained such a notion when he stepped onto the mat against Kyle Snyder in the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling.
But not every reigning champ is ready to cede the title, and Snyder certainly fits into that category. The youngest U.S. wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal in 2016 is, in fact, determined to become a back-to-back Olympic champion this summer.
If he gets his much-anticipated showdown with rival Abdulrashid Sadulaev, even better.
Much has changed for Snyder since making his debut at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 at the age of 20. Despite becoming a 2015 world champion and then Olympic champion at 97 kg, he was still just a kid. The rising junior at Ohio State returned home from Rio and went back to school, eventually becoming a three-time NCAA champion.
The rivalry against Sadulaev got its start in 2017 after the Russian two-time world champion moved up a weight class to challenge Snyder. They met for the first time for the gold medal at the world championships.
As the match began, one announcer said he hoped the official was the best in the world because they were about to see the best wrestling match ever. Sadulaev led in the second period, but in the final 20 seconds Snyder scored to take a 6-5 lead. His world championship win helped the U.S. beat Russia by one point in the team standings.
But Snyder was unable to defend his world title the following year. What was dubbed the “Match of the Century” in 2017 became “Snyderlaev II” in 2018 as the two wrestled in a rematch for the title. This time Sadulaev got the pin just one minute, 12 seconds into the match.
The following year Snyder made it to the semifinals at the world championships, earning an Olympic quota spot for the U.S. at his weight class, but suffered a surprising upset and went on to win bronze. “Snyderlaev III” was put on hold.
Three weeks later he announced he was leaving Ohio State and joining the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club at Penn State, explaining on social media: “The simple truth is I need to get better. In order for me to fulfill my obligations as a member of Team USA and as the defending Olympic champ, I must give full effort and take complete responsibility for this process.”
He moved into the basement of wrestling legend and Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson’s house that fall and since then has been working toward a return to dominance in Tokyo.
By March of 2020, Snyder was raring to go. He displayed championship form at the Pan American Championships, easily winning the gold medal against two-time Cuban Olympian Reineris Salas Perez.
Everyone knows what happens next.
Faith is a big part of Snyder’s life and his social media posts are often accompanied by Bible verses. So, when the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were postponed a year to this summer he took solace in knowing that God was in control.
When he couldn’t wrestle, he visualized applying the techniques he was learning at Penn State and what it would be like when he did return to the mat.
“I know the NLWC is the best coaching staff in the country and I’m very thankful for the way things worked out, and for me to be able to train in that environment,” he said during a press conference after the Olympic Team Trials. “They take care of everything for us so we can take care of what we need to on the mat. They’re the hardest working coaching staff in the country and I really appreciate everything they’ve done.”
Snyder has called his rivalry with Sadulaev friendly but said at that same time that he wants to destroy him on the mat.
Wrestling fans are certainly hoping to see him take on the “Russian Tank,” as Sadulaev’s known, in Tokyo. Sadulaev comes in as a defending Olympic champion himself, albeit it at the 86 kg. class in which he wrestled before moving up the following year.
Snyder said after defeating Moore to earn his return trip to the Games that he was more confident with each passing year.
“But my confidence doesn’t come from my experience on the mat,” he said. “My confidence comes from my faith in Jesus and as I continue to mature in my faith I have less stress in my life, less anxiety before competition, less nerves. I’m ready to compete. I’m more calm and focused and I know things aren’t going to be distracting me and putting me in a bad attitude. Being an Olympic champion and world champion and all that, it doesn’t compare to the confidence I get from my faith.”