2021 Olympic champion Gable Steveson (Photo courtesy of Larry Slater; LBSphoto.smugmug.com)
On the final day of the wrestling competition at the 2020 Olympic Games, one of the most anticipated bouts in Olympic history took place. 2016 Olympic gold medalists Kyle Snyder and Abdulrashid Sadulaev (ROC) squared off.
This was the third career meeting between the two. Snyder took the initial clash between the two, in 2017, which helped clinch a world team for the men's freestyle squad. A year later, at the 2018 World Championships, Sadulaev got his revenge with a quick first-period fall.
Today's matchup started off as a tactical battle, with neither wrestler making any committed offensive attacks in the first few minutes. Though Snyder was more aggressive, he was put on the shot clock first. After the :30 seconds expired, Sadulaev was awarded a point. He would lead 2-0 at the break after getting another point via step out.
After the break, you could sense that Snyder was ready to turn up the heat on his Russian foe. Snyder got in on an early leg attack, but had his momentum stopped by Sadualev. The Russian locked through the crotch and was able to expose Snyder to take a 4-0 lead. That margin jumped to 6-0 as Sadulaev scored off of a similar situation. As the second period progressed, Sadulaev began to wear down and Snyder earned a takedown. The American continued to push the pace and also garnered a point from a step out. Unfortunately, Snyder was in a race against the clock and could not complete the comeback. He would ultimately fall 6-3.
By making the final, Snyder earned his second Olympic medal and his sixth consecutive World/Olympic medal. He now had six (two titles) at the age of 25. Sadulaev also is 25 years old and is now among the best ever in the sport. He has a pair of Olympic gold medals to go with four world titles in five tries.
The final American to step on the mat at the Olympic Games was Sarah Hildebrandt, who competed for a bronze medal at 50 kg. Standing in the way of her bronze medal with Ukraine's world bronze medalist Oksana Livach. Like Snyder's match, Hildebrandt was placed on the shot clock despite, showing more offensive attacks. Hildebrandt appeared doomed to trail 1-0 after the first period, but continued to attack until the final seconds of the period and secured a takedown as the clock expired. In the second period, it was all Hildebrandt. After her second takedown in the final stanza, Hildebrandt locked in her bread-and-butter, the leg lace. Although she was credited with three turns, she could have done many more. Only three were needed for Hildebrandt to jump to technical superiority status, though. Her 12-1 win locked up a bronze medal for the 50 kg star.
With all of the dust settled, the men's freestyle team went 5-for-5 in earning Olympic medals. That is the most since the 1996 Olympics (when ten weights were contested). Two American men came away with gold medals (David Taylor and Gable Steveson), while a third was in the finals (Snyder). Snyder also became the first multi-time American Olympic medalist since Bruce Baumgartner in 1996.
The women's freestyle team set numerous records with their performance. Coming into the 2020 Olympics, only five American women had won medals since the sport was offered to women in 2004. Additionally, only once had multiple women earned medals in the same Games. Four will leave Tokyo with hardware. Helen Maroulis again made history by becoming the first American woman with multiple Olympic medals. Tamyra Mensah-Stock became the first black woman to win Olympic gold. Adeline Gray was finally able to add Olympic medalist to her incredible resume.
All in all, it was a tournament that will be talked about by American wrestling fans for years and decades to come.
97 kg Men's Freestyle: Gold Medal Match
Abdulrashid Sadulaev (ROC) over Kyle Snyder (USA) 6-3
50 kg Women's Freestyle: Bronze Medal Match
Sarah Hildebrandt (USA) over Oksana Livach (Ukraine) 12-1