Kyle Snyder, Abdulrashid Sadulaev
United World Wrestling

Kyle Snyder refuses to dwell on those 68 seconds

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Tervel Dlagnev hasn’t forgotten what pupil Kyle Snyder told him on their walk back to the hotel in Budapest on the night of Oct. 23.

“I wish that I can remember this feeling,” Snyder said after being pinned in 68 seconds by Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev in the world championships 97kg final earlier that evening. 

In a sport as macho as wrestling, a bear of a man such as Snyder would not be expected to take defeat well. Snyder, who in 2015 became the youngest American to win a world title and in 2016 the youngest U.S. Olympic gold medalist, lost on the global stage for the first time against the Russian Tank who has become an archrival.

Back in 2015, Snyder cried tears of sadness on the podium while accepting the NCAA team title with Ohio State, because he lost the 197-pound final to Iowa State senior Kyven Gadson. Snyder, then a freshman, came to Columbus with a goal of becoming one of a handful of men to win an individual NCAA title all four years. There are stories of calling out an aunt after a family vacation beach volleyball defeat or going silent and hitting the gym hard the day after the rare loss in his college career.

But on this night in Hungary, Snyder shared a different sentiment with coach Dlagnev, a fellow devout Christian.

“I wish I can harness this feeling when I lose,” Snyder went on, “to remember it’s not that big of a deal.”

Dlagnev knew at that moment that Snyder would be OK after what could easily be called the toughest, perhaps most humiliating defeat of his career. Snyder didn’t see it that way.

“I knew it was in my benefit that I lost,” Snyder said by phone Sunday. “I just had to figure out why. Part of the reason why, I was still holding onto part of my identity being a wrestler. That was holding me back from competing to the best of my ability. I let go of some of that and just moved forward.”

Snyder took three and a half weeks off from wrestling training, vacationing in Florida with his wife as planned ahead of worlds, and would not compete again for three months.

“People would think that [the loss] would be in my mind, and it’s all I’d be thinking about for weeks and weeks after it, but it isn’t,” Snyder said in one of his first interviews after returning to training.

He actually lost his first match back in January — Snyder can’t remember the last time he lost back-to-back matches — but won his next two tournaments in March and April.

Top U.S. wrestlers are in New York City for Monday night’s Beat the Streets event, where Snyder faces Canadian Nishan Randhawa, a 21-year-old who may be out of his league having never wrestled the Olympic champ nor competed at a senior world championships.

It is Snyder’s last meet before June’s Final X, where he will face a to-be-determined countryman for the one available 97kg spot at September’s world championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

At worlds, Snyder could next face Sadulayev, whom he rallied to beat in their first matchup in the 2017 Worlds final that also clinched the team title for the Americans and arguably made Snyder the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestler.

Their roles reversed Oct. 23 in Budapest.

“[Snyder] ran off and had some alone time,” Dlagnev said. “To be fair, [Snyder] walked out off the mat [in 2017] with the cameras in his face, and [Sadulayev] was alone in the corner with his head in his hands.

“The script flips. You can’t play the pity game. That’s sports.”

Snyder was praised in the wrestling community for how he publicly handled defeat.

“I’m not defined by the sport,” he said as Sadulayev strode behind, patting him on the back. “God’s given me the wins that I’ve had, the great wins that we’ve seen. God’s also given me losses. I’ll take both of them.”

Snyder evaluated the match with Dlagnev and again with USA Wrestling in December but said he hasn’t watched the video this winter or spring. There’s not much to learn from 68 seconds.

And while Snyder wore a “Round 3” t-shirt in a day-after-Christmas Instagram, he insists that the thought of a rubber match is not fuel.

“I’m not motivated to beat Sadulayev, or anybody in my weight class,” he said. “My motivation isn’t even to win world championships. 

“I truly don’t care if I win or lose, but I just want to wrestle hard.”

Of everything that happened the night of Oct. 23, Snyder recalled being backstage in Budapest and seeing Sadulayev surrounded by media, cameras and well-wishers.

“It seems like every time I lose a match at a big event, it frees me up a little bit more. It unlocks part of my brain,” he said. “Now I know what it’s like at ends of losses that previously, early in my life, seemed like they would just crush me. Now I know it’s not that bad. I feel like, really, there’s nothing that’s going to hold me back from now on.”

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

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