Kyle Snyder becomes youngest American to win World Wrestling Championship

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Kyle Snyder dropped to his hands and knees, an American flag covering his body. He went to lie on the mat.

One piece of Snyder poked out from beneath the flag, under the 13th stripe, his red wrestling shoes.

From the front, one could peek under the 50 stars to see three fingers hiding the face of the 19-year-old who had moments earlier become the youngest American to win a World Wrestling Championship.

“I don’t know what it means to me exactly,” Snyder told media shortly after he picked himself off the mat, where he appeared to be praying, ensconced in that cloth cocoon. “Hanging out with my friends is fun, but this is pretty cool.”

Snyder, a 19-year-old who was the Big Ten and NCAA runner-up at Ohio State as a freshman last season, upset the defending World champion from Russia in the World Championships 97kg freestyle final in Las Vegas on Friday night.

This wasn’t Gardner over Karelin, but Snyder came into the tournament ranked No. 15 in his weight class. Russian Abdusalam Gadisov was No. 2.

A dried stream of blood ran from his left nostril to his upper lip as Snyder was told in a group interview minutes later that he had become the first U.S. teen to win a World title, breaking the youngest-ever record held by perhaps the greatest American grappler of all time, two-time Olympic champion John Smith.

“I like making history,” Snyder said. “I want to be known as one of the greatest wrestlers to ever live.”

Snyder became the third American to win gold at Worlds this week, the most World titles earned by the U.S. in one year since 1999. The current U.S. icon, Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, wrestles Saturday for a chance to make it four, which the U.S. hasn’t tallied in one year since 1995.

Snyder overcame Gadisov with a two-point takedown with 23 seconds left in the six-minute final. That gave Snyder a 5-4 lead, and though Gadisov made it 5-5 seconds later, Snyder held on to win via a tiebreaker.

“Before the tournament started, I was expecting to win,” he said.

Snyder said he would have watched the final from the stands “eating Skittles” if he hadn’t eeked out the first of his five matches Friday, 2-1 over the 2014 World bronze medalist from Ukraine just before noon.

He rolled through the afternoon in Vegas, a city he can’t fully take in for another two years. Snyder anticipated a final against the Russian, whom he said he’s watched since seventh or eighth grade.

“He’s the guy I wanted to wrestle most,” he said. “He’s been doing a lot of winning.”

Snyder moved to Columbus last year with a blue-chip pedigree, going 179-0 in his first three seasons at a Maryland Catholic high school and then, in 2013, becoming the youngest American in over 20 years to win a World Junior Championship.

But as a Buckeye, he lost in the final of both the conference and national championships in his first year of college wrestling.

“When you feel pain like that, you never want to feel it again,” Snyder said of his NCAA defeats.

Snyder will sit out the coming NCAA season to focus on qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. One spot is available per weight class at the Olympic trials in Iowa City in April.

Snyder has a bye into the Olympic trials final as a Worlds medalist, but he may well have to beat the reigning Olympic champion Jake Varner to make it to Rio.

That’s just what Snyder did to get to Vegas, edging Varner 2-1 at the U.S. Open in May and then, more easily, 4-1 and 3-0 at the World Team Trials in June.

Snyder will eventually go back to Columbus, even though he’s not going to wear a Buckeyes singlet in NCAA competition for another year, if he ever does again.

“If I can wrestle the best guys in the world, then I should be able to go to class a couple of times a day,” he joked.

MORE WRESTLING: Watch Jordan Burroughs rip a phone book in half

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey Vonn, Michaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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