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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David Boudia wins U.S. title, qualifies for worlds after break from diving

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David Boudia, after a year away from diving, two more children, a concussion and a goodbye to the platform, is back in familiar territory. He’s on the U.S. team for the world championships.

Boudia, a 30-year-old, four-time Olympic medalist, outscored fellow Rio Olympian Michael Hixon to win the springboard at the U.S. Championships on Saturday.

The top two per individual event by cumulative score at nationals go to July’s worlds in South Korea. Boudia was in third place going into the finals but had the top Saturday score by 23.35 to leap onto the team with Hixon.

“It’s relieving, but in my mind, as an athlete, there’s a lot of work to be done before 2020,” Boudia said on NBCSN. “I have to learn new dives if I want to contend with the best in the world.”

Later Saturday, Rio Olympian Amy Cozad Magaña and Delaney Schnell made the world team in the women’s platform, with Schnell helping knock out Rio Olympian Jessica Parratto. Competition concludes Sunday with the women’s springboard and men’s platform.

Boudia, whose 72 career Olympic dives all came off the platform, switched to the more forgiving springboard after a February 2018 concussion.

He considered retiring after a third Olympics in Rio, where he earned synchro silver and individual bronze after an individual gold at London 2012. He even began a real-estate job in Indiana. But he announced a diving comeback in September 2017, saying he didn’t want to have any “what ifs” later in life.

Boudia then beat Hixon at the 2018 Winter Trials, proving he could master the new event. The other Rio Olympian on the springboard, Kristian Ipsen, has retired.

Boudia has competed at every Olympics and world championships since 2005, except in 2017 of course, and is the only U.S. diver to earn a medal in an individual Olympic event at either meet since 2009.

“I don’t think I have been that nervous since 2005,” Boudia said, according to TeamUSA.org. “Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five.”

Cozad Magaña, 28, placed seventh in synchro at the Rio Olympics and plans to retire after 2020. Schnell, 20, was sixth individually at the 2016 Olympic Trials and second at the 2017 world trials before placing 27th at her world debut two years ago.

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U.S. men’s rugby team qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

U.S. men's rugby sevens team
Mike Lee/KLC
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The U.S. became the first men’s rugby team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, clinching its spot Saturday during penultimate leg of this season’s World Series.

The Americans, ranked No. 1 in the world, mathematically secured a place in the top four of the World Series final standings by advancing out of pool play in London. The knockout rounds are Sunday, but a top-eight finish was all that was necessary for Olympic qualification.

Now the U.S. can focus on a goal it didn’t have at the start of the year: winning the nation’s first World Series season title. It entered London with a slim, three-point lead over Olympic champion Fiji, one that would be erased if Fiji and the U.S. advance to Sunday’s final and Fiji wins.

Regardless, the season champion will be decided at the 10th and final World Series stop in Paris next weekend.

The Americans held onto the standings lead despite being without two stars — two-time World Player of the Year Perry Baker and Danny Barrett — the last three World Series stops. Baker and Barrett returned from injuries for the London leg.

Four years ago, the U.S. needed to go to a continental qualifier to earn in its place in Rio. Rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in 2016, 92 years after the traditional 15-a-side rugby last appeared at the Games. The Americans ended up ninth in Brazil, missing the quarterfinals on a tiebreaker.

World powers Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa are in position to join the U.S. as Olympic qualifiers through the World Series.

Seven more nations will qualify via continental tournaments later this year and a last-chance event in June 2020. Japan received an automatic spot as host nation.

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