| Kyle Snyder in the 2015 World Championship finals in Las Vegas, Nev.
Photo: Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com.
Call him a gym rat, a mat junkie, a workaholic, a student of the game.
“The more you compete the better are you going to get,” Snyder said during Friday’s pre-tournament press conference for the 2016 United States Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Iowa.
A monster work-ethic has allowed the Maryland native to reach an unprecedented level. In high school, at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Maryland, Snyder won 179 matches with no losses in three seasons. Motivated for more, a move to Colorado’s Coronado High allowed the rising star a chance to learn from the United States’ best at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
A move back east, to Ohio State University, and Snyder was among the top collegiate 197-pounders as a freshman during the 2014-15 school year. At the 2015 NCAA Championships, the Buckeye first-year starter knocked off 2014 NCAA champion J’Den Cox of Missouri in the semifinals before falling to Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson in the title match on the big stage.
And then things got serious.
At the 2015 U.S. World Team Trials, Snyder, still just 19-years-old, beat 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jake Varner to earn a berth in the 2015 World Championships in September. And in front a raucous Las Vegas crowd, the “rookie” shocked the wrestling world by, first, making the finals, and second, by beating Russian superstar Abdusalam Gadisov for World Championship gold at 97 kg/213 pounds. At 19, Snyder is the youngest American to win a World title at the Senior level in freestyle.
Four months later, in the midst of a redshirt during his sophomore season at Ohio State, the decision was made to compete in folkstyle. Eleven wins later, starting in February and finishing with a thrilling win over North Carolina State’s Nick Gwiazdowski in the 285-pound NCAA title bout in March, Snyder was an NCAA champion and on top of the wrestling world yet again.
Certainly a year to remember and among U.S. wrestling’s greatest accomplishments.
After winning a World title in 1987, John Smith followed it up with NCAA gold at the 1988 NCAA Championships. The current head coach at Oklahoma State knows what he went through, the grinding, the daily ritual, the constant focus.
“It requires an incredible amount of discipline,” Smith said. “There’s work, and then there is work. (Kyle) Snyder is an elite athlete. On top of being such a good athlete, he wants to keep getting better. To be that dedicated at such a young age, you don’t find those types very often. The work he puts in shows.”
“We were fortunate to have Logan Stieber (at Ohio State) and Kyle Snyder has that same type of attitude,” said Buckeye head coach Tom Ryan at the 2016 NCAA Championships in New York. “These guys want to be the best, not just in the country, but in the world. What Kyle Snyder accomplished is historic. That stuff just doesn’t happen.
“And the scary thing is that (Snyder) knows he can still get better. He outworks everybody.”
The reigning World champion has a pretty simple philosophy.
“The more you compete the more you allow yourself to be able to learn and improve from the mistakes that you make in each match,” he said. “Even the things that you do well you can learn to do even better.”
The 213-pounders hit the mats on Sunday. Varner, who turned 30 on March 24, may be the top challenger. The veteran who made his first World Team in 2009 and won Olympic gold in 2012 will have to conquer the Challenge Tournament field before getting a shot at Snyder in a best-of-three series Sunday night.
“I never really focus on what the other guys are doing, how hard they are working,” said Snyder in New York. “I focus on what I’m doing, the work I’m putting in. Sure, there’s film and stuff to look at, but I work on the things that I need to do to get better. Folkstyle, freestyle … it doesn’t matter. It’s about finding what you do well and making it even better. I love the work it takes to be successful. That motivates me.”
Like Snyder, Adeline Gray hits the mat on Sunday. And like Snyder, Gray is still learning her craft as one of the United States’ top female freestylers. The 75 kg/165-pounder is in the midst of a 35-match win streak that includes World Championships in 2014 and 2015. The Colorado native also won a World title in 2012 and earned bronze in 2013. At 25-years-old, she continues to improve, mature, and learn everything wrestling.
“I’ve had a really great run these last three years, 35 matches straight undefeated and just had a lot of success on and off the mat,” Gray said. “I’ve just been really pleased with where I am with my wrestling and just continuing to get better. I’m looking forward to getting this weekend solidified and going on to Rio.”
Five freestyle weight classes (two men, three women) hit the mats on Saturday. The long and arduous road to Rio gets underway for American 143-pounders who have not qualified the weight class for the 2016 Olympics. Brent Metcalf, a former national champion for Iowa, seeks a fourth straight World Team berth with challenges from Jordan Oliver, 2015 World medalist James Green, veterans Kellen Russell, Jimmy Kennedy, and Reece Humphrey, a former World Team member. The champion Saturday night will have a muted celebration due in part to a difficult trip to Mongolia at the end of this month for an Olympic qualifier. If the American entry does not finish in the top three, one last qualifier will be held in Turkey in May.
The 275-pound field will try and knock off Tervel Dlagnev, a two-time World bronze medalist, the first in 2009. The former Division II star at Nebraska-Kearney won the Pan American Olympic Qualifier and will have to hold off a number of challengers this weekend, including Gwiazdowski, an NCAA runner up in 2016 after winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
A loaded 58 kg/128-pound women’s freestyle bracket includes Alli Ragan, a member of the last three U.S. Women’s squads; 34-year-old Leigh Jaynes-Provisor, a World bronze medalist at 60 kg in 2015; 2012 Olympian Kelsey Campbell; and 18-year-old Teshya Alo, the U.S. Open champion with a win over Campbell.
At 63 kg/138.75 pounds, Erin Clogdo and 29-year-old Elena Pirozhkova, a 2012 World champion, may be the two to beat, while the 69 kg/152-pound field includes 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller, who did not compete for five years after her trip to Beijing in 2008. Pirozhkova was the Trials champion in 2015 at 152, but has returned to 63 kg.
Like 143 pounds on the men’s side, the women’s winners at 128 and 152 pounds will still have to qualify for Rio. Clodgo, a World Team member in 2015, won the 138.75-pound gold at the Pan American Olympic Games Qualifier in early March to give the U.S. women’s freestylers one of their two berths for the 2016 Olympics.
Nine of the 18 weight classes contested this weekend have not qualified for the 2016 Olympics. Hometown favorite Tony Ramos, a former NCAA champion for Iowa, joined Dlagnev in winning the Pan American qualifier. Reigning World champion Jordan Burroughs and Snyder qualified their weight classes on the strength of their 2015 World Championship results.
Wrestling gets underway at 9:00 a.m. (CT) with the best-of-three championship finals set for 6 p.m. (CT). Of the six men’s freestyle weight classes, only Jordan Burroughs, reigning World champion at 74 kg/163 pounds, and Snyder sit and wait for Challenge Tournament winners.