chiba, japan – this was the match everyone was waiting for in wrestling, kyle snyder vs. abdulrashid sadulaev, u.s. olympic committee vs. russia, perhaps the two best male wrestlers in the world, both reigning olympic gold medalists, one of those rare olympic finals where everyone in the sport knew who was in it before the tournament began…and yet it was essentially what snyder didn’t know.
all that training. all those workouts. all that time thinking about sadulaev since the last time they met in 2018.
Reading: Kyle snyder gold medal match
was it enough?
unlike swimmers and runners, snyder couldn’t measure himself against a clock. he, too, could not be compared to other 97 kg (213 lb) freestyle wrestlers. he never gave him much trouble anyway. his entire Olympic quest was to improve enough that he could beat a single man. and that man hit him hard.
the final was 6-3. but at one point, it was 6-0. Sadulaev was so powerful, so immovable, it was hard to believe this was the legendary Kyle Snyder trying to take him down.
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sadulaev won the first point of the match when it was decided that his nickname, the russian tank, is far superior to snyder’s captain america. no, that is not correct. Sadulaev got the point because Snyder received two warnings for inactivity, which created a 30-second window in which one of the fighters had to score a point. if no one did, sadulaev would get one. no one did tank 1, captain 0.
sadulaev got his next point when he forced snyder out. it was becoming clear that all of snyder’s plans would probably mean nothing. Sadulaev was content to let Snyder be the aggressor. Soon it was 4-0, and then Sadulaev got a takedown to make it 6-0, and when it finally went 6-3, the questions for Snyder were simple and unpleasant.
There’s no shame in a silver medal, but Olympic achievement isn’t just about what you win. it’s about what you’ve earned before. In Snyder’s sophomore year at Ohio State, he went undefeated and won a national title. in his junior year, he went undefeated and won a national title. in his senior year, he lost! well, once. even so he won a national title.
and while still in college, snyder went to rio de janeiro and won an olympic gold medal. he had already won a world championship. He was 20 years old and had achieved everything a fighter could wish to achieve, which could explain his carelessness while he was in Rio.
forgot to convince sadulaev to stay at 86 kilograms (190 pounds).
sadulaev also won gold in the river. he was also 20 years old. The following year, he moved up a weight class for the world championships, and it was pretty obvious he was after Snyder’s crown.
they met for the first time at the world championship in 2017. sadulaev built a lead. but snyder came back and won. Snyder was a big winner that day: “He would have been happy with that performance, even if he had lost,” he said. but he also said this, of sadulaev: “he felt smaller. I felt stronger than him. that’s what he tired him out. he was definitely undersized for the weight class.”
could have been true. it didn’t hold true for long. The following year, Sadulaev beat Snyder at the world championships. The following year, Sadulaev won again, but this time Snyder didn’t even make it to the final. Snyder then said, “The simple truth is I need to get better,” and he got better. unfortunately, so did sadulaev.
snyder must have seen this. But when asked if Sadulaev is a different fighter now than when he first faced him, Snyder said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.” When asked if the key to Sadulaev’s victory is that he is so strong, Snyder said, “I don’t know,” and laughed humorlessly.
The strength of great fighters is like the speed of race cars: if you only compare them to each other, you can lose sight of how impressive they are compared to the others. Sadulaev and Snyder wore each other out. when it was over, they were too weak to do anything but exist. Snyder leaned forward with his hands on his knees. Sadulaev was on his back with his hands on his face. Snyder stood up and then put his hands on his knees. Finally there was a handshake, and Sadulaev put his hand on Snyder’s head, and they left.
Snyder speaks Russian, but said he didn’t speak to Sadulaev all day Saturday, before or after the wrestling match. maybe there was nothing to say. snyder knows what happened. they both do.
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