J’den Cox challenges Kyle Snyder for Olympic wrestling spot

United World Wrestling
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J’den Cox, on the most dominant recent run of any U.S. male wrestler in three decades, will enter reigning Olympic champion Kyle Snyder‘s weight class at April’s Olympic trials.

Only one wrestler per division makes the team for Tokyo.

Cox, a Rio Olympic 86kg freestyle bronze medalist, won world titles the last two years at 92kg, a non-Olympic weight. Last September, he went unscored on at worlds. Only one other U.S. man achieved that at an Olympics or worlds in the last 30 years.

Then Cox, 24, faced a decision for the Olympic year: go back down to 86kg, or move up to 97kg. He chose the latter, which means he must beat Snyder at trials in Pennsylvania the first weekend of April to make the Olympics.

Snyder has a bye into the best-of-three trials final as a reigning world medalist. Cox has a bye into the semifinals as a reigning world medalist at a non-Olympic weight.

“Really tough decision,” said Cox, who decided months ago but stayed silent until Tuesday. “Partially why I’ve kind of held off on telling the world, plus I like seeing people sweat a little bit.”

Cox said he made adjustments throughout 2019 with 86kg in mind. At some point after worlds, he chose 97kg instead, saying it was a test he owed to himself.

“Obviously, we all know Kyle Snyder’s there,” said Cox, undefeated in 17 matches since late 2018. “It’s an amazing feat that I’m going to have to pull out to even make this team.”

In Rio, Snyder became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20. He followed that by winning the Match of the Century, a 2017 World Championships final with fellow Olympic champion Abdulrashid Sadulayev of Russia.

But Snyder took silver and bronze at worlds the last two years and then changed coaches, moving from Ohio State to Penn State (site of trials) and living in the basement of 2004 Olympic champion Cael Sanderson.

For Cox, a move to 86kg would not have been much easier. David Taylor, a 2018 World champion who missed 2019 after knee surgery, resides there.

“When I’m 65, and I’m no longer able to do this sport, I want to be able to look back and know that I did everything in my power to be the best that I could be,” Cox said. “I want to live a tested life. This is part of my test.”

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