Kyle Snyder knew it was going to be tough to defend his 2016 Olympic wrestling gold medal. He knew he’d likely face his Russian rival, Abdulrashid Sadulaev, who is unbeaten since Snyder beat him at the 2017 World Championships.
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On Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics, Sadulaev got the best of Snyder once again, defeating him 6-3 to take gold in the 97kg/214 lb. division.
“I’m a competitor so I hate to lose,” Snyder told reporters following the match. “And I know there’s things I got to get better at.”
Snyder had breezed through his competition until meeting Sadulaev in the gold-medal match. The Russian jumped out to an early lead and Snyder was never able to recover. After the loss, he remained on the mat with his head bowed and hands on his knees.
Kyle Snyder rally’s late to score a take down & a step out but Sadulaev holds him off. Snyder takes silver & completes one of America’s most successful Olympic Games in history (Men’s Freestyle).
The wrestling community is proud of you @Snyder_man45 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/VvZB8hdqAT
— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) August 7, 2021
These two wrestlers have quite a history together. When Snyder defeated Sadulaev at the 2017 Worlds, many dubbed it the “Match of the Century.” Snyder was the reigning world and Olympic champion at 97kg, while Sadulaev was the reigning world and Olympic champion at 86kg but had moved up to a weight class to challenge Snyder. It marked the Russian’s first defeat at the senior international level since November 2013.
When the foes met at the 2018 Worlds, some dubbed it the “Rematch of the Century” and others called it “Snyderlaev II.” This one, however, didn’t go Snyder’s way. Sadulaev pinned the American just 70 seconds in. It marked Snyder’s first loss on the global championship stage — a tough blow for a man who became the youngest American to win a world title in 2015 (he was 19), and in 2016 became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion.
And he couldn’t overcome Sadulaev again in their third major bout. However, Snyder’s silver medal, followed by Sarah Hildebrandt’s bronze in the women’s 50kg class Saturday, gave the U.S. Olympic wrestling team nine medals in Tokyo, more than any other nation. That’s the most Olympic wrestling medals for the U.S. since 1984.
Snyder was hoping to add gold to that tally, as he has always prided himself on his ability to focus, eliminate distractions and prioritize that which is most important to him, including his faith. He used the extra year to prepare for Tokyo to strengthen himself physically and mentally, relying heavily on his faith in God to do so.
“When that happens, I just know that God’s in control,” he told Sports Spectrum earlier this year. “If God is relaxed, then His children should be relaxed. There’s nothing to stress out about. So I wasn’t stressed. I just continued to work on the things that I could work on.”
Snyder has earned a reputation as one of the best wrestlers in the world, and most people would agree he is the best American wrestler. He was a perfect 179-0 in high school, then won three straight national championships in college at Ohio State. He then became the youngest American to win the Ivan Yarygin Memorial Grand Prix, one of the toughest tournaments in the world. He won the event again the next year, making him the first American to not only win it back-to-back, but to win it twice at all.
After the epic win over Sadulaev at the 2017 Worlds, Snyder earned the nickname “Captain America.” That can be a lot of pressure on someone, but Snyder has proven adept at blocking it out.
Saturday’s loss was not the result he was hoping for, but he hopes others are able to see in him why his faith in God is so important. He says he finds his identity in Christ and not in his sport.
“As big as the sport is in my life, wrestling doesn’t define me,” he wrote for The Increase in June. “God alone defines me. I’m always consistent with my Scripture study and prayer, and during the pandemic I was able to continue to grow and focus on God and hear what He wanted to teach me.”
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