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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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U.S. Olympic team qualifying, selection races to watch in 2020

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A look at some intriguing races for U.S. Olympic team spots as the final six months of qualifying begin …

Basketball
Men’s Guards

The last four seasons, every guard on every All-NBA team was an American. Thirteen different players combined to take up those spots. All 13 are part of USA Basketball’s national team pool. Maybe five will go to Tokyo. The group to choose from includes those with Olympic experience such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Russell Westbrook. And those without, like Stephen CurryDamian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh Jennings/Brooke Sweat vs. Kelly Claes/Sarah Sponcil

Two U.S. women’s beach teams will qualify for Tokyo. April Ross and Alix Klineman are comfortably in first place in the standings. The triple Olympic champion Walsh Jennings and new partner Sweat are second in Olympic qualifying more than halfway through, but third-place Claes and Sponcil are within striking distance. The race likely will not be decided before the last stretch of four- and five-star tournaments in late May and early June.

Equestrian
Women’s Jumping

Could this be Jessica Springsteen‘s year? The daughter of rocker Bruce Springsteen recently cracked the top four of the U.S. rider rankings for the first time in at least two and a half years, though she is seventh among Americans in the international rankings. The U.S. Olympic team of three riders (plus an alternate) will be chosen in June. The usual suspects — Kent Farrington, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward, all at least 10 years older than the 28-year-old Springsteen — remain at or near the top of the rankings.

Fencing
Men’s Foil

The U.S. boasts four of the world’s top 10 — Race Imboden (2), Gerek Meinhardt (6), Alexander Massialas (7) and Nick Itkin (10) — plus 2012 and 2016 Olympian Miles Chamley-Watson. But only three per nation can compete individually at the Olympics. The top three in national team point standings come April go to Tokyo. The U.S. is looking for its first men’s Olympic fencing title since 1904.

Golf
Tiger Woods vs. Dustin Johnson vs. Justin Thomas vs. Gary Woodland vs. Brooks Koepka vs. Others

The U.S. will qualify the maximum four men’s golfers for Tokyo, but the names are unknown to start 2020. The Official World Golf Ranking after the U.S. Open in June determines the Olympic field. The current OWGR (which includes results that aren’t part of Olympic qualification) has the top four as Koepka, Thomas, Johnson and Woods. But golf rankings guru @VC606’s projection, which excludes results before the Olympic qualifying window, has Woods in fifth place and Johnson in sixth, replaced by Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Every result could be critical this winter and spring, making Woods’ decision to skip this week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions (with its limited field and guaranteed ranking points with no cut) even more noteworthy.

Gymnastics
Laurie Hernandez vs. Newcomers

Assuming Simone Biles leads the four-woman U.S. team (plus two women in individual events), there is one other returning Olympian hoping to join her. Hernandez hasn’t competed since taking balance beam silver in Rio but plans to make a late Tokyo run. Four years ago, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas became the first women to make back-to-back Olympic teams since 2000, but each of them came back a year earlier than Hernandez. Gymnasts in Hernandez’s way include members of the last two world championships teams (like Morgan Hurd and Sunisa Lee) and first-year seniors like Kayla DiCello, looking to repeat Hernandez’s feat in 2016 of making an Olympic team at age 16.

Shooting
Women’s Skeet

Four different U.S. women won the four world titles in this event between 2014-18, including a medals sweep in 2018. Five Americans make up the top 14 in the world right now, and a sixth, 18-year-old Austen Smith, won the first stage of the Olympic trials in September. Two women will qualify for Tokyo by the end of the trials process this spring. The biggest name is 40-year-old Kim Rhode, looking to become the first person to earn a medal at seven straight Olympics in any sport.

Soccer
Women’s Forwards

World Cup rosters are 23 players. Olympic rosters are 18. The U.S. must cut from its world champion team of last summer, putting stalwart goal-scorers at risk. Chief among them is Alex Morgan, who hopes to return from an April due date for a third Olympics. Then there’s Carli Lloyd, who at 37 is trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic soccer player in history. Other thirtysomethings in the mix: Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Christen Press, plus Mallory Pugh, who made the Rio Olympics at age 18. The last two Olympic teams each had four forwards.

Swimming
Chase Kalisz vs. Ryan Lochte vs. Carson Foster

Lochte wants to make a fifth Olympic team, at age 35, in his patented 200m individual medley. To do that, he must take down either the 2017 World champion Kalisz or the 18-year-old Foster, who has been breaking Michael Phelps‘ national age-group records since he was 10. Two swimmers per individual event make the Olympic team at June’s trials. There are other potential spoilers in the 200m IM, including 2018 breakout star Michael Andrew and Abrahm Devine, who made the last two world teams. One thing’s for certain: There will be a new Olympic champion with the retirement of Michael Phelps, who won this event in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Tennis
Madison Keys vs. Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams vs. Sloane Stephens vs. Others

The U.S. gets four singles spots per gender at the Olympics. Qualifying is via ATP and WTA rankings with the cutoff after the French Open. More than halfway through, Serena Williams comfortably leads via Wimbledon and U.S. Open runners-up (3,185 points). She’s followed by Sofia Kenin (1,941), Alison Riske (1,713) and Madison Keys (1,537). Then comes another drop-off to the current alternates, led by Coco Gauff (709). Venus Williams, eyeing a fifth Olympics when she will be 40, is in ninth place (and just withdrew from her 2020 season opener). Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 11th. Any player who doesn’t make singles could still be chosen for doubles, where Venus is an intriguing option.

Track and Field
Women’s Marathon

One of the hardest U.S. Olympic track and field event teams to make will be one of the first to be decided. Six of the nine fastest Americans in history are expected to start the marathon trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. Headliners include 2018 Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and American 10,000m record holder Molly Huddle. Only three get to go to Tokyo, while the rest likely crowd the 10,000m field at the track trials four months later in Oregon.

Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs vs. Kyle Dake

Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, and Dake, the 2018 and 2019 World champion at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class, are expected to make up the most intense final of the Olympic wrestling trials from April 4-5 at Penn State. Only one wrestler per weight class qualifies for Tokyo. Burroughs has made every Olympic and world team at 74kg since 2011. But Dake, who avoided Burroughs by moving up in weight in 2016, represents his toughest challenger yet.

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

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Abdulrashid Sadulayev, an Olympic and world champion wrestler from Russia, was suspended four months after wearing a T-shirt depicting Imam Shamil, a 19th-century leader from Sadulayev’s native Dagestan, immediately after winning his most recent world title on Sept. 22.

The suspension was backdated to that date, meaning it ends in late January. Sadulayev will not miss major competition and is still eligible for the Tokyo Games.

United World Wrestling rules prohibit political and religious messages and signs during competition.

Sadulayev, 23, went undefeated at the senior international level for nearly four years from 2013 to 2017, when he was beaten by American Kyle Snyder in a world championships final dubbed the “Match of the Century.” Sadulayev came back to win the last two world titles.

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