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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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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