Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Five things to know about the wrestling Olympic champion Kyle Snyder

The USA star had a 179-0 high school record, but did you know that he changed his approach to wrestling after a dream?
By Andrew Binner

Kyle Snyder is one of the most entertaining freestyle wrestlers in history.

But the man known as ‘Captain America’ is also something of a contradiction.

On the mat, his natural power and skill led to an unbelievable 179-0 high school record, before he pinned down the world under-20 wrestling championships aged just 17.

The Ohio State man then became the youngest wrestler ever to win world and NCAA championships, as well as an Olympic gold medal, in the same year. He was just 24 when he secured the 97kg title at Rio 2016.

But away from the mat, Snyder transformed into a learned, pious, and arguably tranquil individual.

Kyle Snyder (red) beat Khetag Goziumov of Azerbaijan in the 97kg final of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

His latest Olympic cycle has been hampered by injury, but he has still landed three world championship medals. His anticipated clash with J’den Cox at the USA Trials for a place at Tokyo Olympics in 2021 could be one of the match ups of the event.

Should Snyder progress from Trials, there will be two reigning Olympic champions at 97kg in Tokyo, with Abdulrashid Sadulaev having moved up a weight division since Rio 2016.

Snyder beat Sadulaev to win the 2017 world championship, but the Russian avenged that loss in the 2018 final, before taking out the 2019 title. An Olympic clash between the pair is a tantalising prospect.

But what else do you know about Maryland native Snyder?

1 - Inspired by a nightmare

While Snyder was always a talented grappler, he lacked the aggression needed to take him to the next level in his early career.

That all changed after a rare loss in the 2015 NCAA finals as an Ohio State freshman.

A couple days later, he had a dream.

“In my dream, I was done wrestling and I was looking back at my career and I realised I had never wrestled to my full potential,” Snyder told USA Today. “I was always holding something back. And I was really mad at myself.”

Snyder awoke with a new sense of purpose. He decided to focus on himself, rather than opposition, and approach every bout like it would be his last.

“I now put it on the line way more than I used to. I don’t really hold anything back in most of my matches and my effort is usually really good, whereas my freshman year I probably held on at times to secure victories.

Three months later, he won the first of his two world championships, and a year later, Olympic gold.

2 - A unique physique

Snyder’s relentless work ethic is the cornerstone of his success.

But he is also aided by a body that was simply made to wrestle. He is 1.8m tall and 97kg (214lb) in weight.

This means he has a low centre of gravity and back muscles so large that they protrude from his spine - it's an impressive sight even compared to other wrestlers.

In a sport where manipulating an opponent’s head and neck is a key to success, a strong back is of vital importance both offensively and defensively.

3 - A wrestler and a student

Wrestling is serious business in Russia, and many of the sport’s top stars - including Sadulaev - hail from the European powerhouse.

As a man that leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of greatness, Snyder started taking Russian language lessons in a bid to try and improve his game on the mat.

“If I can speak Russian, then I’ll change wrestling in America forever, because I’ll get all the Russians that are really good to come train here,” he told Victory Journal. “Everyone that I’ve ever talked to over there, they’re like: ‘Yes! America’s nice, man!’”

It is yet another example of Snyder’s razor-sharp mind. He was also an Academic All-Big Ten selection at college, with a 3.88 GPA in his sports industry degree!

4 - Training with Taha Akgul

One man Snyder was successful in luring to the United States for a joint training camp, is reigning 125kg Olympic champion Taha Akgul.

Despite not being able to speak English, the giant Turk accepted the American’s invitation over private message on Instagram.

The camp was clearly a roaring success for both parties, as Akgul has returned several times since. Talk about a heavyweight clash.

5 - He lived in a basement ahead of the Tokyo Olympics

It's not often you'll find an Olympic champion choosing to live in a basement.

But Snyder decided to do just that in the autumn of 2020.

It wasn't any basement though, it belonged to Athens 2004 wrestling Olympic gold medallist Cael Sanderson. But why did Snyder leave his Ohio State home and training base to join the programme at Penn State?

“The simple truth is I need to get better,” Snyder posted on social media after being defeated at the world championships. “This decision isn’t to suggest that one program is better than the next, but this is taking advantage of additional thinking and incorporating that into my wrestling.”

When they weren't training or talking wrestling, the two Olympic champs passed the time by playing video games.

“I just thought that the change would bring about a new perspective,” Snyder said, “and some small adjustments in my wrestling that will ultimately make big changes.”

It will be interesting to see how Snyder has adapted his game at the USA Wrestling Olympic Trials in 2021, which take place at in Texas, 2-3 April. You can read our preview of the event here.