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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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Japanese wrestling legend Saori Yoshida announces retirement

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Japanese wrestler Saori Yoshida announced her retirement via Twitter on Tuesday. The three-time Olympic gold medalist and 13-time world champion retires as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.

Yoshida made her senior debut in 2002 and went on to win her first 119 international matches (a win streak that lasted until January 2008). She made her Olympic debut at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first Games at which women’s wrestling was contested, and claimed one of the inaugural women’s gold medals in the sport. After losing her first international match in January 2008, Yoshida rebounded by successfully defending her Olympic title at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Yoshida was selected as Japan’s flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics and she went on to win a third-straight Olympic gold medal at those Games. A few weeks later at the 2012 World Championships, she broke the record for most consecutive world or Olympic titles by claiming her 13th-straight (the previous record of 12 had been held by Russian legend Aleksandr Karelin). With three more world titles in 2013, 2014, and 2015, she entered the 2016 Rio Olympics having won 16-straight world or Olympic titles.

But in Rio, Yoshida was denied a fourth Olympic title by American Helen Maroulis, who defeated the Japanese great to become the first-ever American to win an Olympic gold medal in women’s wrestling. It marked Yoshida’s third loss in international competition — and first at a major event.

Yoshida started wrestling at the age of three under the guidance of her father, Eikatsu, a former Japanese national champion who built a dojo in the family’s home to introduce Yoshida and her two older brothers to the sport. Eikatsu went on to become Yoshida’s longtime personal coach, in addition to serving as a coach for the Japanese national women’s team. Eikastu died in 2014 after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Less than a week later, Yoshida helped the Japanese team win gold at the World Cup.

Yoshida has not competed since claiming silver at the 2016 Rio Games. The 36-year-old says she plans to pursue a career as an actor/TV personality.

Japan Olympic legend avenges first home loss in 17 years in comeback

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Japanese wrestler Kaori Icho is off to a strong start in a bid to be the first person to earn individual gold medals at five Olympics.

Icho, 34, won a national title after taking two years off after the Rio Games, beating fellow Olympic champion Risako Kawai in Sunday’s 57kg final. A day earlier, Kawai handed Icho her first loss to a countrywoman in 17 years, according to Kyodo News.

This weekend’s Emperor’s Cup was the first event of a two-pronged qualification for September’s world championships and is the first tournament with Olympic qualifying implications in Japan, according to United World Wrestling.

“I felt a kind of nervous tension like I hadn’t in a long time,” Icho said of her second tournament back, according to Kyodo. “I still have room to grow, to improve, and now I want to take stock of the issues that arose with my performance today and make use of those lessons.”

Icho earned 58kg gold in Rio, while Kawai, a decade younger, was the 63kg champion. Kawai earned 59kg and 60kg world titles the last two years.

The weight classes alter slightly for Tokyo 2020 with 57kg and 62kg divisions.

Icho once held a 13-year win streak and owns 10 world championships.

She is already the oldest female Olympic wrestling champion (women’s wrestling was added to the Olympic program in 2004, Icho’s first Games). By 2020, she will be older than any men’s wrestling champion since Bulgarian Valentin Yordanov in 1996.

Icho is the lone woman to earn individual gold medals at four Olympics, joining a group of men including Michael PhelpsCarl Lewis and Al Oerter.

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