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Abdulrashid Sadulaev Overpowers Kyle Snyder in Titanic Clash for Gold

CHIBA, Japan — This was the match everybody in wrestling anticipated, Kyle Snyder against Abdulrashid Sadulaev, the United States vs. Russian Olympic Committee, perhaps the two best male wrestlers in the world, both reigning Olympic gold medalists, one of those rare Olympic finals when everybody in the sport knew who would be in it before the tournament started … and yet it was, at its core, about what Snyder did not know.

All that training. All those workouts. All that time thinking about Sadulaev since they last faced each other in 2018.

Was it enough?

Unlike swimmers and runners, Snyder could not measure himself against a clock. He could not really measure himself against other 97-kg (213-pound) freestyle wrestlers, either. They never gave him much trouble anyway. His entire Olympic quest was about improving enough so he could beat one man. And that man beat him soundly.

The final was 6–3. But at one point, it was 6–0. Sadulaev was so powerful, so immoveable, that it was hard to believe that this was the legendary Kyle Snyder trying to beat him.

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Sadulaev earned 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’s not right. Sadulaev got the point because Snyder received two warnings for inactivity, which created a 30-second window in which one of the wrestlers had to score a point. If nobody did, Sadulaev would get one. Nobody did. Tank 1, Captain 0.

Sadulaev got his next point when he forced Snyder to step out. It was becoming clear that all of Snyder’s plans would probably not mean a thing. 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 ended at 6–3, the questions for Snyder were simple and unpleasant.

There is no shame in a silver medal, but Olympic achievements are not just about what you win. They are about what you have won before. In Snyder’s sophomore year at Ohio State, he went unbeaten and won a national title. In his junior year, he went unbeaten and won a national title. In his senior year, he lost! Well, once. He still won a national title.

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And while he was 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 wrestler could want to achieve, which might explain his oversight while he was in Rio.

He forgot to convince Sadulaev to stay at 86 kilograms (190 pounds).

Sadulaev also won gold in Rio. He was also 20 years old. The next year, he moved up a weight class for the world championships, and it was pretty obvious that he was going after Snyder’s crown.

They faced each other for the first time in the 2017 world championship. Sadulaev built a lead. But Snyder came back and won. Snyder was a gracious winner that day: “I would have been happy with that performance, even if I lost,” he said. But he also said this, of Sadulaev: “He felt smaller. I felt stronger than him. That is what made him tired. He was definitely smaller for the weight class.”

It might have been true. It did not stay true for long. The next year, Sadulaev beat Snyder at the World Championships. The year after that, Sadulaev won again, but this time Snyder didn’t even make the final. Snyder said then, “The simple truth is I need to get better," and he did get better. Unfortunately, so did Sadulaev.

Snyder must have seen this. But when he was asked if Sadulaev is a different wrestler now than when he first faced him, Snyder said, “I don't know. I'm not sure.” When he was asked if the key to Sadulaev’s win is that he is just so strong, Snyder said, “I don’t know,” and laughed humorlessly.

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The strength of great wrestlers is like the speed of race cars—if you only measure them against each other, you can lose sight of how impressive they are compared to everybody else. Sadulaev and Snyder wore each other out. When it ended, 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 walked off.

Snyder speaks Russian, but he said he did not speak to Sadulaev at all Saturday, before or after they wrestled. Perhaps there was nothing to say. Snyder knows what happened. They both do.

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