Abdusalam Gadisov

Kyle Snyder becomes youngest American to win World Wrestling Championship

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Kyle Snyder dropped to his hands and knees, an American flag covering his body. He went to lie on the mat.

One piece of Snyder poked out from beneath the flag, under the 13th stripe, his red wrestling shoes.

From the front, one could peek under the 50 stars to see three fingers hiding the face of the 19-year-old who had moments earlier become the youngest American to win a World Wrestling Championship.

“I don’t know what it means to me exactly,” Snyder told media shortly after he picked himself off the mat, where he appeared to be praying, ensconced in that cloth cocoon. “Hanging out with my friends is fun, but this is pretty cool.”

Snyder, a 19-year-old who was the Big Ten and NCAA runner-up at Ohio State as a freshman last season, upset the defending World champion from Russia in the World Championships 97kg freestyle final in Las Vegas on Friday night.

This wasn’t Gardner over Karelin, but Snyder came into the tournament ranked No. 15 in his weight class. Russian Abdusalam Gadisov was No. 2.

A dried stream of blood ran from his left nostril to his upper lip as Snyder was told in a group interview minutes later that he had become the first U.S. teen to win a World title, breaking the youngest-ever record held by perhaps the greatest American grappler of all time, two-time Olympic champion John Smith.

“I like making history,” Snyder said. “I want to be known as one of the greatest wrestlers to ever live.”

Snyder became the third American to win gold at Worlds this week, the most World titles earned by the U.S. in one year since 1999. The current U.S. icon, Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, wrestles Saturday for a chance to make it four, which the U.S. hasn’t tallied in one year since 1995.

Snyder overcame Gadisov with a two-point takedown with 23 seconds left in the six-minute final. That gave Snyder a 5-4 lead, and though Gadisov made it 5-5 seconds later, Snyder held on to win via a tiebreaker.

“Before the tournament started, I was expecting to win,” he said.

Snyder said he would have watched the final from the stands “eating Skittles” if he hadn’t eeked out the first of his five matches Friday, 2-1 over the 2014 World bronze medalist from Ukraine just before noon.

He rolled through the afternoon in Vegas, a city he can’t fully take in for another two years. Snyder anticipated a final against the Russian, whom he said he’s watched since seventh or eighth grade.

“He’s the guy I wanted to wrestle most,” he said. “He’s been doing a lot of winning.”

Snyder moved to Columbus last year with a blue-chip pedigree, going 179-0 in his first three seasons at a Maryland Catholic high school and then, in 2013, becoming the youngest American in over 20 years to win a World Junior Championship.

But as a Buckeye, he lost in the final of both the conference and national championships in his first year of college wrestling.

“When you feel pain like that, you never want to feel it again,” Snyder said of his NCAA defeats.

Snyder will sit out the coming NCAA season to focus on qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. One spot is available per weight class at the Olympic trials in Iowa City in April.

Snyder has a bye into the Olympic trials final as a Worlds medalist, but he may well have to beat the reigning Olympic champion Jake Varner to make it to Rio.

That’s just what Snyder did to get to Vegas, edging Varner 2-1 at the U.S. Open in May and then, more easily, 4-1 and 3-0 at the World Team Trials in June.

Snyder will eventually go back to Columbus, even though he’s not going to wear a Buckeyes singlet in NCAA competition for another year, if he ever does again.

“If I can wrestle the best guys in the world, then I should be able to go to class a couple of times a day,” he joked.

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