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Snyder ends incredible year of wrestling with Olympic gold
By Bryan Van Kley, WIN Publisher
RIO DE JANEIRO — The 50th Olympic gold medalist in U.S. freestyle wrestling history is also his country’s youngest.
The honors are just the latest bestowed on the 20-year-old native of Woodbine, Md., who has enjoyed an incredible 11-month period: winning the 2015 World Championship last September in Las Vegas, a 2016 NCAA championship as a sophomore at Ohio State and now Olympic gold medal after he defeated Azerbaijan’s Khetag Goziumov, 2-1, for the 97-kilogram championship Sunday afternoon in Carioca Arena 2 to close out wrestling competition in the 31st Olympiad.
“I’m just really thankful I’ve had the opportunity to wrestle and that my family and friend were down here to share it with me,” said Snyder, who also continued the United States run of at least one gold medal in every Olympics this country has entered since 1972.
The last American to record such an accomplishment was current Oklahoma State head coach John Smith, who won the first of two straight Olympics in 1988, 13 months after he also won a World championship in 1987 and later an NCAA title while wrestling at OSU.
And the youngest American freestyle gold medalist prior to Snyder was Henry Cejudo, who was 21 years old when he won the 55-kilogram championship in Beijing, China in 2008.
Like Cejudo, Snyder moved to Colorado Springs and attended Coronado High School after leaving his home in Maryland as a senior and before he eventually started wrestling the past two winters at Ohio State.
“The (U.S.) coaches told me about Henry coming to Coronado High School (in Colorado Springs),” Snyder said. “My first class was gym, and they had a massive poster of Henry in the room. The kids were like, ‘Is this our new substitute teacher?’ I’m like, ‘No, no, I’m in class with you guys and want to do what Henry did.’ ”
Despite his young age, Snyder continued to show maturity as held on to beat Goziumov and avenge a 2-1 loss to the Azerbaijanian big man at the German Grand Prix this past July.
The finals match with Azerbaijan’s two-time Olympic bronze medalist was Snyder’s slowest, and possibly smartest, match of the tournament as Goziumov was very defensively and very difficult to score on.
Snyder got on the board first at 1:56 when he got a “step-out” point against Goziumov at 1:56. Snyder’s second point came a minute into the second period when the 2010 World champ was put on the shot clock and couldn’t score.
The officials returned the favor to Snyder putting him at the clock at the 4:36 and didn’t score. Snyder continued to stay in good position and defended the powerful Goziumov’s shots well in the final minute for the 2-1 win.
“He’s really strong, I just wasn’t going to let another point go up on that board without it being me scoring,” said Snyder, who was within inches of stepping out in the closing seconds, which would have given Goziumov a criteria victory.
Earlier in the day, Snyder opened his Olympic debut with a 10-3 over Cuba’s Lacerra Cortina. He then blanked Romania’s Albert Saritov, 7-0, before scoring nine unanswered points falling behind Georgian Elizbar Odikadze 4-0 in the semifinals after Odikadze used an arm throw to toss Snyder for four points 29 seconds into the match.
However, the 2016 heavyweight NCAA champ blew open the match with four pushouts, two takedowns and a caution and one call when the Georgian wouldn’t return to the center of the mat with about 25 seconds to go. The final point made the score 9-4, which held to the end and advanced the Buckeye to his second straight final.
Meanwhile, Frank Molinaro’s trip to a medal match at 66 kilograms was quite different when the former NCAA champion from Penn State earned a trip to repechage after another Azerbaijan wrestler, Togrul Asgarov, who tech’ed the former NCAA champion from Penn State, 10-0, reached the finals
Molinaro, who opened his first Olympics by beating Poland’s Magomedmurad Gadzhiev 2-2 on criteria, earned probably his gutsiest win of the day when he downed Ukraine’s Andriy Kvyatkovs 8-5 in a very physical match to earn a spot in one of the two bronze medal matches.
But Molinaro’s medal hopes came to an end in the bronze-medal match against defending World champ Frank Chamizo, 5-3, of Italy. Molinaro nearly had a match-winning takedown at the buzzer with a low-level attack but could not put Chamizo’s lower legs on the mat as Chamizo was able to maintain his tripod position.
Despite falling short of a medal, Molinaro was proud of his effort and that fact that he was going home to see his wife and two sons, including Frank Jr., who was born Aug, 10, after he had left for Brazil
“I’m not going home with a bronze medal, but I’m going home to two healthy boys and a great wife,” the smiling Molinaro said.
When asked what he would tell his boys, Molinaro joked that he would give them technical advice. “I’d tell them to learn how to finish a tripod. I drill that everybody, he’s (Chamizo) just tricky there.”
Molinaro knew how close he was to winning the U.S.’s fourth medal of the Games.
“He’s just a good wrestler. He was out there fighting like I was. Sometimes it’s just a matter of inches. It was his day. I just couldn’t him down. If I would have had three or four seconds left, I would have won that match. I’ve had an amazing experience,” he said.