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Maryland wrestlers Kyle Snyder, Helen Maroulis secure Olympic spots

Woodbine native Kyle Snyder, shown celebrating after winning the 97kg freestyle wrestling gold medal match on August 21, 2016, secured a spot in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics by winning the U.S. Olympic trials Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas.
Woodbine native Kyle Snyder, shown celebrating after winning the 97kg freestyle wrestling gold medal match on August 21, 2016, secured a spot in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics by winning the U.S. Olympic trials Saturday night in Fort Worth, Texas. (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP/Getty Images)

Maryland wrestling was golden in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Olympics. This summer in Tokyo could prove so again.

Defending Olympic freestyle wrestling champions Kyle Snyder of Woodbine and Helen Maroulis of Rockville earned their spots for the second straight Olympics on Saturday night at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, with victories at the U.S. Olympic wrestling team trials.

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Snyder, a three-time world champion who at 20 was the youngest American to win an Olympic gold in wrestling five years ago, dominated at 97 kilograms and had no issues beating Kollin Moore twice, 10-0 and 5-1, to lock up his spot on the team.

The three-time NCAA champion at Ohio State switched his training to State College, Pennsylvania, to compete for Nittany Lion Wrestling Club out of Penn State in late 2019 after earning silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019 at the world championships.

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“I know the NLWC is the best coaching staff in the country and I’m very thankful for the way things worked out and for me to be able to train in that environment,” Snyder said.

Snyder’s bracket was also full of drama. Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world champion J’Den Cox had moved up a weight class and was set to challenge Snyder for the spot but failed to make weight Friday morning. He has filed an appeal.

“I’m really close to J’Den. … It stinks that it worked out that way, but I’m ready to compete,” Snyder said. “That’s what I was focused on.”

Maroulis, the first American woman to win gold in the Olympics, had a more challenging final at 57 kg. She beat Jenna Burkert 5-3 in the first match of a best-of-three series but lost the second, 6-5. In the winner-take-all bout, Maroulis executed a foot sweep in the opening seconds and pinned Burkert in 23 seconds.

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The Rockville native had a difficult road to qualify. After winning world titles in 2015 and 2017 between her Olympic gold, Maroulis had two concussions in 2018 and the effects lingered for months. She was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but said last month that she has fully recovered.

Maroulis, who, like Snyder, trained out of State College, also said Saturday night that she competed with a torn MCL she suffered two and a half weeks ago.

“I didn’t know if this was ever going to happen. I didn’t know if I was ever going to get back to wrestling, back on this stage,” she said. “I didn’t know if I would be healthy. … I am so grateful for this journey.”

There was a changing of the guard at 74 kg as Jordan Burroughs, a five-time world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, lost to Kyle Dake, 3-0 and 3-2, in the best-of-three series.

Thomas Gilman, a world silver medalist in 2017, won both his matches against Vitali Arujau at 57 kg, while Jordan Oliver swept Joey McKenna at 65 kg, a weight class not yet qualified for the Olympics.

At 86 kg, 2018 world champion David Taylor dominated Bo Nickal, 2-0, and Gable Steveson, who won an NCAA title last month and was named the co-Hodge Trophy winner as the nation’s best college wrestler, surprised two-time world bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski and won both matches with ease to earn an Olympic spot.

Two former Navy wrestlers, Peyton Walsh and Daniel Miller, fell short in winning spots on the men’s Greco-Roman team. Walsh lost to Jesse Porter in the 77 kg final in a weight class not yet qualified for the Games, while Miller (97 kg) lost in the semifinals of the challenge tournament.

Ildar Hafizov (60 kg), Alejandro Sancho (67 kg), John Stefanowicz (87 kg), G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg) and Adam Coon (130 kg) will represent the U.S. in Greco-Roman in Tokyo.

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