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Woodbine native Kyle Snyder seeks winning end to remarkable NCAA wrestling career

Ohio State's Kyle Snyder, an Olympic gold medalist, gets ready for his Big Ten match against Maryland's Youssif Hemida at Good Counsel last year.
Ohio State's Kyle Snyder, an Olympic gold medalist, gets ready for his Big Ten match against Maryland's Youssif Hemida at Good Counsel last year. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Many in the college wrestling world expected Kyle Snyder’s senior year at Ohio State to play out as a coronation, another run of casual dominance for a guy already considered to be the best pound-for-pound competitor in the world.

Adam Coon was not among those people.

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Michigan’s 6-foot-6, 280-pound heavyweight considers Snyder a pal. He’s even slept on his couch when they were training together in preparation for international competition. But that doesn’t mean Coon ever stopped devising ways to upset Snyder, the Woodbine native who’s won the past two NCAA titles in the 285-pound class.

He did just that at a dual meet in February, with some calling Coon’s 3-1 victory the greatest shock in college wrestling since Dan Gable lost his last match at Iowa State 48 years ago. Snyder hadn’t lost a college match since he was pinned in the 197-pound NCAA final in 2015.

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He gained revenge on Coon with a 4-2 win in the Big Ten tournament earlier this month. But fans are hoping for a decisive match between the two Saturday night in Cleveland, with an NCAA title on the line.

This isn’t the first time Snyder has gone into the NCAAs targeted for a potential dream match. Two years ago, wrestling aficionados anticipated his Saturday night showdown with North Carolina State heavyweight Nick Gwiazdowski, who outweighed him by 35 pounds and had won 88 straight matches. Snyder won anyway, taking Gwiazdowski down in overtime in one of the greatest college matches in recent history.

Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder poses for photos with members of Maryland's wresting team, including Jhared Simmons, left, and Adam Whitesell, right, after their Big Ten matchup, won by the Buckeyes, 30-12, at Good Counsel last season.
Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder poses for photos with members of Maryland's wresting team, including Jhared Simmons, left, and Adam Whitesell, right, after their Big Ten matchup, won by the Buckeyes, 30-12, at Good Counsel last season. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

I think about the things I normally think about and when it’s time for the competition, then I’ll focus on wrestling.


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“That’s exactly how I want it to be,” he said of the anticipation for his match with Coon (they’re the top two seeds in the heavyweight division but have to work their way through the bracket to make the dream a reality).

Snyder has never shied away from performing on the biggest stages. He was considered the No. 1 high school wrestler in the country at Good Counsel but left a year early to live in Colorado and train with other Olympic hopefuls. He won a world title after his freshman year at Ohio State and an Olympic gold medal in the summer of 2016, when he was just 20.

No one else in college wrestling comes close to matching his international record. In fact, he’s wrestled relatively infrequently for the Buckeyes because he’s often preparing for an overseas meet instead.

His achievements gave him an aura of invincibility, but in fact, there are very good reasons why the NCAA is no easy hunting ground for Snyder.

He walks around at about 225 pounds and wrestles at 213 internationally, so he’s small compared with most college heavyweights and Lilliputian compared with Coon. It’s never mattered much because of his near-supernatural blend of strength, quickness, fitness and technique.

Clarksville’s Tatyana McFadden was honored as Female Paralympic Athlete of the Year, too.

But Snyder concedes that Coon is the rare athlete who forces him to adjust his attacking style. He has to be more patient and wait for the ideal moment to strike.

“His size is so much greater that I really do have to be more strategic about how I go into the match,” he said.

Not even Gwiazdowski forced him to rethink his approach to such a degree.

Coon is a terrific character in his own right, a massive slab of beef who graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering and hopes to work in space some day.

Snyder likes and respects him but said that won’t “factor into it at all” if they’re staring at each other across the mat Saturday.

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Though Snyder will wrestle his final college matches this weekend, he said he’s not in a reflective mood. He plans to wrestle internationally for years to come, with an unspecified number of future Olympics on his agenda. He’ll still train at Ohio State. So really, he’s not staring at a massive change.

“I really don’t get too zoned in,” he said. “I think about the things I normally think about and when it’s time for the competition, then I’ll focus on wrestling.”

The NCAA final loss three years ago changed his outlook. He stopped worrying so much about results and instead devoted himself to wrestling the most beautiful matches possible. He has also thrown himself into a more intensive exploration of his Christian faith. Talk to him now and you won’t hear him reference wins and losses or titles and medals.

“It’s something I feel the responsibility to talk about and something I think about all day,” he said of his faith. “I think what you learn is that your identity isn’t in the sport that you play. That takes a lot of anxiety away.”

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