Late August in Columbus, Ohio means tens of thousands of Ohio State students return to their college lives after summer break. Buckeye wrestler Kyle Snyder had a slightly atypical summer and arrived to campus with a little extra hardware – an Olympic Gold medal.
Just over a week ago, the Ohio State junior became the youngest American wrestler ever to win an Olympic Gold medal. According to Snyder, the gravity of his accomplishment still has not quite set in.
“I think it’ll take a little more time," Snyder said, addressing the local media for the first time since his return. "When my career’s over, I think all the things I’ve been able to do will sink in a little bit more. For now, I still find myself looking toward the future and getting excited about that.”
Though, there's not much more to accomplish in the future. At just 20 years old, Snyder has already reached what he calls "the pinnacle of the sport." The only thing that could top it is another gold medal – or four.
"I want to try to wrestle in five Olympic Games," Snyder said. A lofty goal, but certainly not an unattainable one. "I'll be 36 in 16 years – it's not that old." Snyder explained he's actually well ahead of his prime for his weight class. Khetag Gazyumov, who Snyder beat in the gold medal match, is 32 years old and the average age for a medalist in the bracket was 33.
"People say the love of winning drives them, or the hatred of losing drives them – I don’t think either of those drive me. The thing that drives me the most is just the love that I have for wrestling and my passion to be the best wrestler in every position possible.”– Kyle Snyder
For now though, Snyder is a 20 year old college student eager to get back on the mat and compete for his school. Of course, as an Olympic Gold Medalist, Snyder will get everyone's best shot this season – as if he didn't already – and complacency may be an issue for someone who's returning to college wrestling after topping the world's elite, but Snyder isn't terribly concerned.
"The good thing is now when I think about the Big Ten and the NCAAs, and when I think about running out of the tunnels at Ohio State and competing in front of our home crowd, I get excited," explained Snyder. "If I wasn’t getting excited, then I’d probably be a little bit worried about the way I was focusing for the matches, but right now I’m still very excited to compete in college.”
The Buckeyes are very excited to have him, as well – not just for his talents, but for his leadership. As a junior, one of the elder members of a young Buckeye squad, Snyder said he's always been more of a lead-by-example sort of guy, but he wants to become more of a vocal leader this season and hopes his Olympic experience has helped equip him to do that.
“When you’re around elite people you learn from them, you learn the way they act. You pick up small things, the way they talk and the way they motivate other people," Snyder said. "I learned a lot of stuff from people while I was at the games and I think it will become a better leader here at Ohio State. That’s one of the things I’m most excited to do – help lead Ohio State and hopefully bring back another team title this year.”
Snyder will also look to defend his individual NCAA Title – a crown he added for the first time last season after a runner-up performance the previous year where he fell to Kyven Gadson of Iowa State in the championship match. Since that defeat, Snyder has been on a tear, becoming the youngest American World Champion at 19, winning gold at the 2015 Pan American games and winning the 2016 NCAA Heavyweight Title. Snyder insists this hot-streak has nothing to do with his 2015 loss to Gadson.
"It seems like after I lost that match I turned something on and went on a huge win streak, but I kind of just stuck with the process," explained Snyder. "I didn’t really change many things because I fully believe I was working as hard as I possibly could before the NCAA Finals that year but it just didn’t go that way."
It's safe to say things have started to go his way. Snyder is quite literally the best in the world at what he does. Few people can say that, especially 20-year-old college students. And that's what he is, despite all he's accomplished in the past year – a college student.
"I still have classes," Snyder reminded everyone with a chuckle, subtly glancing down at the piece of solid gold resting on the podium in front of him.
Snyder is one of the world's top athletes, reaching the pinnacle of his sport before he can legally consume alcohol – but he still has to go to class.