Kyle Snyder
United World Wrestling

Kyle Snyder, seeking change, moved into a wrestling legend’s basement

Leave a comment

Kyle Snyder, an Olympic and world champion and one of the world’s best wrestlers, spent the autumn living in a basement.

Not just any basement. Wrestling legend Cael Sanderson‘s basement.

Snyder announced Oct. 10 that he was moving from Ohio State, his home since 2014, to live and train at Penn State, another NCAA and post-grad wrestling power.

“The simple truth is I need to get better,” was posted on Snyder’s social media, three weeks after he was beaten at the world championships for a second straight year (after winning Olympic or world titles in 2015, 2016 and 2017). “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.”

Sanderson, a 2004 Olympic champion who before that went 159-0 in four years at Iowa State, is now the head coach at Penn State and also coaches a stable of post-grads at Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.

“Once I said I was going to move there, [Sanderson] was like, you can just live in my basement [at first],” the 24-year-old Snyder said. “If you would have told me when I was like 16, 15, years old, I would go spend a night in Cael’s basement, I would have been like, wow, it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever received.”

Snyder can afford his own place, but at the time his wife was on an internship in Philadelphia that ran to Dec. 15.

“Then when she gets there [to Penn State], we’re going to move out because I didn’t think we could both live in Cael’s basement,” Snyder said in a November interview (It’s unknown whether the move out has happened yet.). “But it’s been good because I knew Cael well, but I didn’t know him like I was living in his basement.”

There’s little in Sanderson’s house that would tell visitors he is one of the greatest wrestlers in history. There is an ESPY Award in his living room, Snyder said, but no other significant medals or trophies.

Sanderson and Snyder, two generational U.S. talents, passed the time discussing Sanderson’s new passion: coaching. He was hired by Penn State in 2009. He led the Nittany Lions to eight of the last nine NCAA team titles (Snyder’s Buckeyes prevailed in 2015), while briefly coming out of retirement to finish fifth at the 2011 World Championships.

“We play Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies and stuff,” Snyder said of Sanderson, who is married with two sons. “Maybe that’s not that normal for a dad to do that.”

Snyder also reunited with old rival Jake Varner, an assistant coach at Penn State. Varner won the 2012 Olympic title in Snyder’s weight class, but was dethroned by a 20-year-old Snyder at the 2016 Olympic trials. Varner didn’t compete beyond 2016.

“[Varner] kind of stayed his distance from me, and I stayed away from him, and that’s just kind of the way it was for us,” Snyder said. “Now that he’s done competing, I’m just super thankful that he’s there. He’s way different. Our relationship is way different. It’s really easy to talk to him. He’s helped me technically and mentally. He’s always willing to wrestle with me.”

Once he dethroned Varner, Snyder felt like he could beat anybody. And he did, becoming the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20 and then defeating the Russian Tank, Abdulrashid Sadulayev, in a 2017 World Championships epic. Sadulayev had not previously lost in four years on the senior international level (and competed in a different weight class than Snyder in Rio).

But Sadulayev pinned Snyder in 68 seconds at 2018 Worlds. This past September, Snyder was upset before getting the chance to face Sadulayev in another final.

“The reason why I went to Penn State is because I believe God wanted me to go there,” said Snyder, who prays for 30 minutes to start the day and says he draws all of his value from faith. “To say that losing in ‘18 and ‘19 didn’t have anything to do with [moving to Penn State], I would say that’s not true. When I lose, I’m like, well let’s turn it up. I don’t want to lose again. I want more detailed coaching. I want my training partners to come in and be even more ready. It’s not that they weren’t helping me a lot, but I guess I was looking for change and thought that would help me.”

Snyder’s coach at Ohio State, Tervel Dlagnev, and Penn State coaches declined to comment for this story. Snyder will continue to train ahead of the Olympic trials the first weekend of April, when he will have a bye into the final.

“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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: World’s top wrestler banned 4 months for T-shirt

Bradie Tennell delivers her punch, seizes figure skating nationals lead

Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bradie Tennell punched the air when she finished her winning short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday night.

For most athletes, that is a common reaction to a strong performance.

For Tennell, whose default mood is self-containment, it was an unusual outpouring of emotion.

And maybe it showed just how well she understood the way her choreographer, Frenchman Benoit Richaud, wanted her to perform a program in which her confident, sometimes sassy skating complimented the staccato, robotic music.

After all, she would be skating it in a look-at-me bright red dress.

When they first began working on the program, Richaud felt Tennell was characteristically trying to disappear into the woodwork by turning what were meant to be bold physical statements into understated movements.

“You need to make a splash,” he told her. “You need to feel like you’re the center of everyone’s attention.”

That is the last thing Tennell normally wants to be.

“It’s weird,” Tennell said. “I guess when I’m on the ice, that’s what I’m aiming for, but when I’m off the ice, I’m more introverted, so it’s not something I’m used to.”

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, commanded the judges’ attention with a flawless performance begun with a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and ended with consecutive eye-catching spins. They gave her 78.96 points, leaving her 3.56 ahead of Alysa Liu, 14, who last year became the youngest senior champion in U.S. history.

NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

That is almost exactly the same situation as last year, when Tennell had a 2.71-point lead over Liu going into the free skate. Mistakes by Tennell and Liu’s higher-valued jump content reversed the order in the final standings.

Tennell was battling not only her reserved persona but nervousness over a lingering arm problem.

She had hit her elbow on a wall after a bad spill a few months ago, leading to swelling that went up and down intermittently since then. “For some reason, this week it got really swollen and really painful,” she said.

When she woke up Wednesday, she could not bend her arm. She went to the event medical staff for help. They told her she had an infected hematoma and gave her antibiotics. Her mother, an emergency room nurse for 25 years, added her expertise to the treatment.

That did not calm her nerves, though. It took the first jumping pass to do that.

“As soon as I landed the Lutz-toe, I was like, ‘I can get through this,’’’ she said.

Tennell has spent all season getting beaten by young Russians with more formidable jump arsenals. She insists being at such a disadvantage is not frustrating.

“I don’t think about it that way,” she said. “Luckily, I don’t have to compete against them here, so it’s not really on my mind this week.”

Yet a glance at the short program scores shows just how much an impact Liu’s more difficult jumps can have.

Liu started with a technical base value 5.18 points higher than Tennell’s. Despite Liu’s weaker spins and a wonky landing on a triple Axel, which resulted in a loss of 1.94 points on grade of execution, her overall technical score was only .16 behind Tennell’s.

“I did make a few mistakes,” Liu noted.

Liu’s base advantage increases in Friday free skate, where she plans to do two triple Axels and a quadruple lutz. Those three jumps are worth 10.4 points more than Tennell’s three highest-value jumps.

Of course, Liu has to execute those things, and ice is slippery, as Mariah Bell showed in falling on footwork at the end of her strong short program.

Bell (73.22) was third, 2.18 behind Liu. Amber Glenn was a close fourth (73.16) after giving the most captivating performance of the evening, flush with speed, power and emotion.

Karen Chen, the 2017 champion returning to nationals after a 2019 season lost to injury, was a solid fifth (70.41).

Two-time champion Gracie Gold, whose comeback from depression and an eating disorder has been widely celebrated, struggled to 13th. She botched the landing of a triple lutz and got no points after singling a planned triple loop.

The top three finished in the same order as a year ago. Once again, it was Tennell’s night. It isn’t so bad being the center of attention.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Gracie Gold rebuilds herself to return to nationals

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Coco Gauff stuns Naomi Osaka at Australian Open; Serena upset, Federer escapes

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Perhaps Serena Williams, now 38, will win a 24th Grand Slam title someday.

And maybe Coco Gauff, still just 15, never will earn her first major championship.

Sure felt, though, as if a generational shift was being signaled Friday at the Australian Open, with a pair of monumentally significant third-round results hours apart in the same stadium: a surprising first-week loss by Williams, then a historic victory by Gauff.

First, Williams faltered down the stretch for her earliest exit at Melbourne Park in 14 years, a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 loss to 27th-seeded Wang Qiang of China. It pushed Williams’ gap between Slam trophies to three years.

“I’m way too old to play like this at this stage of my career,” Williams said. “Definitely going to be training tomorrow, that’s first and foremost — to make sure I don’t do this again.”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Gauff also was planning a practice session for Saturday, but hers was to prepare for a fourth-round match.

That’s because the 67th-ranked Gauff took the latest step in her quick progression, becoming the youngest player in the professional era to eliminate the defending women’s champion at the Australian Open, beating former No. 1 Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-4.

Only once the last point had been played did the preternaturally poised Gauff turn into a rather typical teen, joking about wanting to take “a selfie for Instagram” with Rod Laver, the 11-time major champion after whom the tournament’s main stadium is named.

“Honestly, like, what is my life? Like, oh, my gosh!” Gauff told the crowd. “Two years ago, I lost first round in juniors and now I’m here. This is crazy.”

It certainly is remarkable.

With a booming serve, a top-flight backhand and a winner’s mentality, Gauff reversed the result from the first time she was across the net from Osaka, a former No. 1 who already owns two major titles at the age of 22.

When they played each other at the U.S. Open last September, Osaka won in two quick sets and then consoled Gauff, encouraging her to speak to the spectators who were pulling for her.

One reminder of just how young Gauff is: Most of the entrants in this year’s junior Australian Open are older than she is.

Another: She is taking online classes and said she’s been given permission to turn in homework late, “considering the circumstances.”

Yet another: She doesn’t have an official driver’s license quite yet, stuck practicing behind the wheel with a learner’s permit.

But put a tennis racket in her hands and move out of the way: Gauff is now 8-2 in her nascent Grand Slam career, with three of those wins coming against women who have multiple major titles. Her next match is against No. 14 Sofia Kenin, a 21-year-old American who beat Zhang Shuai of China 7-5, 7-6 (7).

The most intrigue in men’s action came at the very end of the night — at nearly 1 a.m., actually, when Roger Federer reeled off the last six points to edge 47th-ranked Australian John Millman 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (8).

It lasted more than four hours in humid conditions, and Federer needed to overcome a hard-to-believe 48 unforced errors from his forehand and an 8-4 deficit in the last tiebreaker, which is first-to-10.

Federer had lost to Millman at the 2018 U.S. Open and it sure seemed this one might be headed that way again.

“Oh, God, it was tough,” Federer said.

Williams vs. Wang was a rematch from Flushing Meadows last season — and the reverse result also happened for them. At the U.S. Open, Williams won 6-0, 6-1 in 44 minutes.

Wang credited that with prompting her to spend more time in the gym so she could add more oomph to her shots.

“I always believed I could do this one day,” Wang said with a laugh. “I didn’t know which day.”

Like Wang, Gauff was much better Friday than in New York. Gauff’s improvement revealed itself in her serving — she put 15 of her initial 16 first serves in play — and her steadiness.

Gauff declared herself more calm for this matchup.

“That,” she decided, “made the difference.”

So did letting Osaka make the mistakes, 30 unforced errors in all, compared to 17 for Gauff.

With that, Gauff became the youngest player to beat a top-five opponent in a women’s tour-level match since Jennifer Capriati did it at 15 in 1991.

“You don’t want to lose to a 15-year-old, you know?” Osaka said.

So, Naomi, could you have done something differently?

“Put the ball in the court,” came the reply.

Williams had similar issues, and even though she went from a massive deficit to even as can be, she could not do what was required in the late going.

Down to what sure felt like her last chance, Williams came through with a cross-court forehand winner to close a 24-stroke point, then raised her arms, held that celebratory pose and looked over toward her guest box.

Finally, on her sixth try, after 1½ hours of action, she had managed to convert a break point against Wang. Soon enough, they were headed to a third set and it appeared that the comeback was on.

It turned out that Williams only was delaying a surprising defeat.

So tough at the toughest moments for so many years, Williams was the one who came undone, often displaying what she later called “the signature ‘Serena frustration’ look.”

Since grabbing major championship No. 23 at the 2017 Australian Open, while she was pregnant, Williams hasn’t added to her total.

She appeared in four major finals over the past two seasons, losing each one.

Williams owns seven trophies from the Australian Open and hadn’t lost as early as the third round at either of the hard-court Grand Slam tournaments — in Melbourne or at the U.S. Open — since all the way back in 2006.

This was the first Grand Slam tournament in 11 years with each of the top 10 seeded women reaching the third round. Who would have suspected Williams would be the first to lose, followed soon thereafter by No. 3 Osaka?

Williams was only seeded No. 8, on account of how infrequently she has competed since being away from the tour while having a baby in September 2017.

She started 2020 well enough, winning a hard-court tuneup title in Auckland, New Zealand, this month for her first trophy of any sort in three years — and first as a mom.

But Williams wasn’t able to carry that success to the Grand Slam level, where it matters the most to her.

She began her news conference by crediting Wang but eventually shifted to criticizing herself for not playing well enough to win.

“I didn’t return like Serena. Honestly, if we were just honest with ourselves, I lost that match,” Williams said. “I can’t play like that. I literally can’t do that again. It’s unprofessional. It’s not cool.”

MORE: Top U.S. tennis player unlikely to play Olympics

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!