By Glenn Clark[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/280801105″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
At the 2016 Summer Olympics, 11 athletes from the state of Maryland combined to win or help their teams win 18 medals.
Woodbine, Md., native turned wrestling gold medalist Kyle Snyder had to wait the longest of the group to compete in Rio de Janeiro, not getting on a mat until Aug. 21, the final day of the Olympiad. But he was proud to help bring home one of the 14 gold medals Marylanders claimed, and he even channeled the movie “Wedding Crashers” to describe his excitement.
“Crabcakes and gold medals,” Snyder said on Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 31.
Of course, if you’ve seen the movie, the line “crabcakes and football” is followed up by the phrase “that’s what Maryland does,” making Snyder’s alteration all the more appropriate.
Snyder’s path to gold was far from unexpected after winning the World Championships at the 97kg class in 2015. The Carroll County native went into that final day of competition free from apprehension.
“I was feeling really good,” Snyder said. “I was feeling confident. I was happy with my training. I felt really calm and didn’t really feel that nervous. There were times where I got nervous and I kind of talked myself out of it. I just wanted to be excited to wrestle. It’s something that I’ve been preparing for a long time. I didn’t want to waste the moment by being overly nervous or anything like that. I wanted to be excited. I knew I was prepared, ready to wrestle hard.”
He coasted to wins in his first two matches, but when he reached the medal round, things got more difficult. Georgia’s Elizbar Odikadze managed to put him on his back only 30 seconds into the match, leaving Snyder in a 4-0 hole. Remarkably, he kept his nerves in control.
“I was still pretty confident,” Snyder said. “You never know whether or not you’re going to win or lose until the last second on the clock strikes zero. You got to continue to wrestle. The good thing is that it happened to me early in the match. So I still had about five-and-a-half minutes left to wrestle, which is almost an entire match. I thought that I’d be able to score enough points to come back. And if I didn’t, then good job to that guy; he just wrestled me well.
“I never really got stressed or even nervous or worried about the score when I was losing in that match, because I just felt like I was ready to wrestle.”
Indeed he was. In the second period, Snyder picked up nine unanswered points, clinching a trip to the gold medal match with a 9-4 win. He would go on to top Azerbaijan’s Khetag Gazyumov to win the title, becoming the youngest U.S. wrestler to win gold at the age of 20.
Needing to train and stay in shape to make weight until competition on that final day, Snyder wasn’t able to take in exactly the same experience at the Games as some other athletes. He made up for it after completing his goal of winning.
“I stayed there for four days after the Olympics,” Snyder said. “So I was able to go to all the cool sites — Christ The Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain. I was able to go to the beach, just hang out, get in the water for a little bit. That was cool. I’m glad that I did that.”
The Good Counsel alum had also arrived in time to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, where he had the chance to meet NBA stars Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler as well as fellow Maryland gold medalist Kevin Durant. He also met tennis icon Serena Williams, who he ended up sharing a floor with in the Olympic village.
But he had actually met another Olympic gold medalist well before that. About a decade earlier, his path to gold actually crossed with fellow Marylander Helen Maroulis, who, in Rio, became the first American woman to win Olympic gold.
“We had the same coach; we actually were drill partners [for] a couple of practices,” Snyder said. “It is pretty crazy. Helen is a beast; she wrestled an amazing tournament. I’m glad I got to know her for awhile before that because it was inspirational to see her compete.”
In interviews before the Olympics, Snyder said he planned to return to wrestle for his junior year at Ohio State, but he admitted he would have to wait to decide for certain until after the games finished. Winning a gold medal can be life-changing and could lead to another path where school might not be as important.
So have those plans changed, or is he going back to Columbus?
“Yeah, I’m already in classes,” Snyder said. “I’m taking four classes this semester. Plans are still the same.”
Yep. Just a regular college student again. Except he’s the one with the Olympic gold medal in his basement.