Kyle Snyder

Kyle Snyder
United World Wrestling

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

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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.”

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Kyle Dake repeats as world wrestling champ; next challenge: Jordan Burroughs

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Kyle Dake recovered from an unspecified freak accident that required surgery, and not wrestling in a meet for eight months, to repeat as world champion at 79kg, a non-Olympic weight class, on Sunday.

The next six months will bring another challenge — beating Jordan Burroughs for an Olympic spot.

“Every year I have a goal of being the best guy in the world. Last year, I proved it. This year, I proved it,” Dake told Trackwrestling.com. “I’ve got my work cut out for me, coming up.”

Dake, a four-time NCAA champion at Cornell who considered quitting after finishing second at U.S. trials year after year, is now in his freestyle prime. He backed up going unscored on at worlds last year by beating his four opponents in Kazakhstan this week by a combined 27-4, capped by topping Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov 4-2 in a final rematch.

Kid Dynamite is unquestionably one of the world’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

That was not the case four years ago. Then, an internationally inexperienced Dake moved out of the 74kg division, and up to 86kg for the Olympic year, to avoid facing Burroughs because Burroughs had a bye into the Olympic trials final as the reigning world champion. Dake ended up losing the 86kg trials final to J’den Cox, who on Saturday repeated as world champion himself.

The four-year difference would seem to favor Dake over Burroughs at April’s trials, where Dake has a bye into the semifinals and Burroughs into the final.

Burroughs, at 31 years old, is on the back end of his career. He just missed the finals of back-to-back world championships for the first time, though he came back for bronze medals. Burroughs has made every U.S. world or Olympic team at 74kg dating to 2011 and earned a medal every time, save his tearful Rio Olympic exit.

Dake, reluctant four years ago to detail his decision to move out of 74kg, determined before this week’s worlds that he would choose 74kg over 86kg (where Cox likely waits again).

“74 seems like a good spot for me,” Dake told Trackwrestling last month.

The number of weight classes drops from 10 at worlds to six at the Olympics, ensuring that at least two of these Americans will not make the Tokyo team:

Burroughs — 5x Olympic/world champion
Dake — 2x world champion
David Taylor — 2018 World champion (missed 2019 while injured)
Cox — 2x world champion
Kyle Snyder — 3x Olympic/world champion

Later Sunday, Snyder rallied from being upset in the 97kg semifinals on Saturday to snag a bronze medal with a 5-0 win over Georgian Elizbar Odikadze. A potential third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Abdulrashid Sadulayev was the most anticipated match of the championships, but Snyder was beaten one match early by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov.

Sadulayev, meanwhile, blanked Sharifov 4-0 to complete a 30-3 romp through his four matches to repeat as world champ.

“The hardest part about it I would say is just the fact that I didn’t get to wrestle Sadulayev again,” said Snyder, a Rio Olympic champion and a 2015 and 2017 World champion who shared bus and elevator rides with Sadulayev on Saturday and Sunday. “I felt prepared for him.”

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J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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