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David Ramsey: Coronado grad Kyle Snyder, a ridiculously wise 20-year-old, wins gold, rules wrestling world

August 21, 2016 Updated: August 22, 2016 at 6:01 pm
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US wrestler Kyle Snyder celebrates with family after winning the Gold Medal n 97kg competition Sunday, August 21, 2016 at the Rio Olympic Games. With him, from left are his brother, Kevin, his girlfriend Addi, mom Tricia and dad Steve. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

RIO DE JANEIRO - The truth was in his eyes. Kyle Snyder was not nervous as he prepared to wrestle for a wrestling gold medal. Dread is not his thing.

In the past few months, he's adopted a fresh approach to competing. He challenges himself before every match to banish all fear. As he prepares to tangle with some of the most frightening men on our planet, Snyder embraces the thrills ahead instead of the possible agony. The more danger, the more he looks forward to the match.

Snyder, a 2014 graduate of Coronado High School, is only 20, but he used his serenity and his strength and his wisdom to defeat Khetag Goziumov, a gnarled 33-year-old former world champion and a two-time bronze medalist. His 2-1 victory in the 97-kg freestyle class made Snyder the youngest U.S. freestyle wrestling champ in Olympic history. Henry Cejudo, another Coronado grad, won gold when he was 21.

OLY WRESTLING
US wrestler Kyle Snyder, a Coronado High School graduate, wrestles Romania's Albert Saratov during their 97kg quarterfinal Sunday, August 21, 2016 at the Rio Olympic Games. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

After Sunday's victory, Snyder's expression changed only slightly. He had earned a $250,000 bonus. He had survived Goziumov's clutches.

He had, and this was obvious, expected all of it.

In 2013, Snyder departed his hometown of Woodbine, Md., to pursue his vision of wrestling gold. He was a three-time Maryland state champ. He never had suffered a high school defeat.

He could have continued to rule Maryland, but he wanted to rule the world. He trained at the Olympic Training Center near downtown Colorado Springs and attended Coronado. Colorado High School Activities Association rules prohibited him from competing in Colorado high school wrestling.

His first class at Coronado was gym. Each morning, he looked a massive poster of Cejudo.

"I want to do what Henry did," Snyder told himself.

Now, the question is how much more is ahead for Snyder. In the past several months, he's won the NCAA title at Ohio State, the world title and Olympic gold.

He's not satisfied. He remains the same young man who departed his hometown to chase the biggest challenges out there.

Bruce Burnett is the USA's 64-year-old national freestyle wrestling coach. He's seen many wrestlers over his long career. He's confident Snyder will retain the hunger required to remain among the world's elite.

OLY WRESTLING
US wrestler Kyle Snyder, right, a Coronado High School graduate, celebrates his semifinal win over Georgia's Elizbar Odikadze during 97kg competition Sunday, August 21, 2016 at the Rio Olympic Games. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Wrestling makes cruel demands, and it's viciously difficult to remain atop the world. Just ask Jake Varner, who won gold at the 2012 London Olympics. Snyder defeated Varner in the Olympic trials to earn this trip to Rio.

"Kyle embraces the work ethic," Burnett said. "He embraces the challenge. Look at the work ethic. He'll never be satisfied."

Burnett thought for a moment about his last sentence.

"He'll never be satisfied," Burnett said again.

As Snyder prepared to step on the mat for the Olympic final, he had a serene look. He was about to battle with a scary-looking man for world supremacy. If Goziumov turns to acting, he would make a perfect hit man for Martin Scorsese's next gangster movie

Snyder was unshaken. He's only a kid, but he's already figured out a secret.

He prohibited fear from invading his mind. He was eager to go to battle.

"If you value winning and gold medals, then the thing you fear the most is losing and that makes you tense up," he said. "I do it because I love it. I do it because I want to be the best I can at it."

He is, at a mere 20, already the best at it.

Now stop and imagine what could be ahead.

But first, before he chases an even higher level of wrestling greatness, Snyder must return to school. The fall semester starts at Ohio State on Thursday, and a wise and calm gold medalist soon will be sitting in class.

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