Kyle Snyder, a native of Woodbine, Md., became the youngest American to ever win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling when he defeated Azerbaijan’s Khetag Goziumov in the finals of the 97 kg weight class (214 pounds) in men’s freestyle wrestling at the Rio Games in 2016. A highly decorated wrestler dating back to his days at Good Counsel High School, Snyder qualified for Tokyo at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in April (97 kg weight class).
PressBox: How did you become interested in wrestling?
Kyle Snyder: I started wrestling when I was 5 years old. I was an aggressive kid and my grandpa wrestled. My dad spoke with his friends and they thought I’d be pretty good at the sport. That’s when I started.
PB: What are your favorite memories of wrestling while growing up in Woodbine and attending Good Counsel?
KS: You have a lot of fun going to the tournaments with your teammates and just kind of hanging out. Obviously, the competing part is fun, wrestling against good opponents. At Good Counsel, we were able to go to a lot of the toughest tournaments in the country. All that was good.
PB: Who were the biggest influences on you as a wrestler growing up?
KS: My mom and my dad were big influences on me as a competitor and a person. My older brother, I was always looking up to him. He wrestled at West Point. My little brother’s my training partner still, so they influenced me a ton. I’ve had a lot of great coaches growing up. To name all of them would be tough.
PB: What’s an example of how your family pushed you along in wrestling?
KS: I think it’s just the daily way that they supported me. Really, it’s the way that they live their life and the examples that they set for me and how to think about competition, how to work hard consistently, how to challenge yourself, how to be fearless when you compete, all those things. I wouldn’t say there’s one specific example, but really just the way that they live their life.
PB: When did you realize you had a real shot to compete at a high level internationally?
KS: I was pretty successful growing up, and I’d say in seventh and eighth grade is when I really started to like wrestling — liked the training aspect of it and competing against opponents and stuff like that, so around then is when I wanted to compete at a high level.
PB: You’ve had a huge amount of success, much of it coming at a young age. What’s always been the biggest motivation for you?
KS: The biggest motivation has just been my faith and knowing that God has made me to be a wrestler at this point in my life. I want to do what He tells me to do, and I want to give 100 percent to it so I can learn and grow closer to him. That’s the reason why I do anything in my life. That’s my ultimate motivation.
PB: What competition has meant the most to you personally outside of Rio?
KS: I’d say the 2015 World Championships. That was my first world title. Lost the NCAA finals six months before then, so you go from being second best in the country collegiately to being the best in the world, that was pretty awesome.
PB: What are your favorite memories from the Rio Games?
KS: My favorite memory was the training leading up to it. It’s just fun, playing spikeball with the guys on the team and hanging out and stuff. And then the competition obviously is why we’re there. I love to compete. All my matches were pretty cool.
PB: What did becoming the youngest gold medalist in U.S. Olympic wrestling history mean to you?
KS: It didn’t really mean that much to me. It was cool and I’m thankful to have had this success at such a young age, but I still want to compete and wrestle at a high level. I don’t really think about it very much.
PB: What does it mean to you to be part of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition? What are your roles and goals in that?
KS: It’s a pretty cool honor. There are a lot of other great athletes and mentors and people like that that are on the committee. We just want to figure out the best way to motivate the youth to be active and to be physically fit and mentally fit.
PB: What is your message to young people in terms of staying active?
KS: I think sports are a great outlet. You know you’re going to be active if you’re playing a sport. In most areas there are good sports clubs and good coaches. You can have a lot of fun competing.
PB: What have the last 18 months been like for you training and competing during the pandemic?
KS: They’ve been really good, just figuring out different ways to compete, figuring out different outlets to train and things like that, but it’s been really good. I would say that I feel like I was taking steps forward just like I would with any other training.
PB: What are you looking forward to the most at the Olympics?
KS: I’m looking forward to competing at the Olympics and wrestling these guys at my weight. I feel very prepared and I know that I’ll be ready to go.
PB: What’s the camaraderie like at the Olympics?
KS: It’s good. For the most part, you’re just with the team you’re on, so I spend a lot of time with the wrestlers, especially at this Olympics. We won’t be spending any time in the Village at all. But everybody’s excited and everybody’s looking forward to competing, so it’s cool.
Photo Credit: Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors
Originally published June 16, 2021