RIO DE JANEIRO – American wrestler Kyle Snyder’s run to the world title in 2015 was so surprising that some wondered if it was something of a fluke.
Snyder showed he’s for real on Sunday, adding an Olympic title to his burgeoning resume.
Snyder, the youngest wrestling world champion in U.S. history, is now the sport’s youngest Olympic champion in U.S. history. The 20-year-old Snyder beat Khetag Goziumov of Azerbaijan 2-1 for gold at 97 kilograms during the men’s freestyle tournament.
“I don’t really have too big of a secret,” Snyder said. “I listen to my coaches. I train as hard as I possibly can.
“I think, if anything, my secret is that instead of thinking about winning and thinking about gold medals and stuff like that, I try to value just my effort, value my improvement and value the love that I have for the sport. That drives me every day.”
After Jordan Burroughs was knocked out in stunning fashion Friday, Snyder was the last real chance the Americans had at a gold medal.
Snyder came through with a brilliant run, knocking off the world’s best just a week before he heads back to class at Ohio State.
Snyder didn’t even win a Big Ten or NCAA title for the Buckeyes as a freshman. But he tore through the field to win at the worlds in Las Vegas in 2015, becoming the first American teenager to do so.
Snyder had planned to take a redshirt year to focus on the Olympics. But he couldn’t stay off the mat, electing to rejoin his teammates in January. Snyder went undefeated at heavyweight for the Buckeyes, beating two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski despite giving up at least 40 pounds.
Snyder lost three times in the run-up to the Olympics, including a 2-1 defeat to Goziumov in Germany last month, and saw his world ranking drop to fourth.
But Snyder let the rest of the field know he was locked in from his opening match, shoving Javier Cortina Lacerra of Cuba off the mat and onto the wooden platform separating the other mats.
In the quarterfinals, Snyder raced out to a 3-0 lead and grabbed Albert Saritov with a body lock, slamming the Romanian to the mat for four points and a 7-0 win.
Elizbar Odikadze stunned Snyder with a four-point throw early in the semifinals. Snyder responded with a flurry of point-scoring moves, taking control by walking the Georgian to the edge of the mat with one leg in his arms and tripping him for a takedown.
“If I don’t have the power to score four points, then he is probably better than me. I have a lot of confidence in myself,” Snyder said.
Snyder used the knowledge he gained from losing to Goziumov in July to best him at the Olympics. Knowing Goziiumov excels at scoring early and then defending well, Snyder attacked and put up the crucial first score.
The youngest American to win Olympic wrestling gold had been Henry Cejudo, who was less than three months older than Snyder is now when he finished first at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Cejudo eventually chose to focus on mixed martial arts. But considering Snyder’s age, talent and passion for wrestling, it might not be the last world championship he wins.
“It’s all part of the process. I’m not scared of losing. I want to compete against the best,” Snyder said. “I just want to be the best wrestler I can be.”
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