Top Stories of the Decade

Snyderlaev: Most Captivating Rivalry of the Decade Takes Center Stage

By Ken Marantz

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (December 23) -- It is the wresting version of "When Worlds Collide."

Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS) and Kyle SNYDER (USA), born just six months apart, had been on parallel tracks throughout their careers, both winning senior world freestyle titles in 2015 and an Olympic gold at Rio 2016, all before their 21st birthdays.

Then Sadulaev decided it was time to give himself a more formidable challenge, and he moved up a weight class to 97kg to face Snyder at the Paris 2017 World Championships. It was immediately labeled "The Match of the Century," and as an added bonus, the team championship was on the line as well.

The rivalry dubbed "Snyderlaev" that started that day in the French capital between the two brawny stars mesmerized the wrestling world, as fans marveled at the speed and athleticism of the two behemoths at such a heavy weight.

The gold went to Snyder in an absolute thriller, with the American scoring the winning points of a 6-5 decision in the final 30 seconds. A year later in Budapest, it would be the Russian who would come out on top, ending the clash with an innovative fall in just 70 seconds.

A third and highly anticipated "Snyderlaev III" at this year's worlds in Nur-Sultan never materialized, as London 2012 Olympic champion Sharif SHARIFOV (AZE) crashed the party by beating Snyder in the semifinals. Sadulaev then defeated Sharifov in the final for his fourth world title.

"In our weight category, there are so many wrestlers with many titles," Sadulaev said. "Even in the final, I met an Olympic champion."

Asked if he regretted not getting to face Snyder for the gold, Sadulaev replied, "No, because the most important final is still waiting for us, the Olympic Games."

Not to take anything away from Sharifov, but a "Snyderlaev" showdown at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to break their tie would not go unappreciated.

Sadulaev, from the wrestling hotbed of Dagestan in southwestern Russia on the Caspian Sea (Sharifov is also a native of the republic), started his international career with back-to-back world cadet golds in 2012 and 2013. A few months after the latter, he was defeated at the Golden Grand Prix in Baku--he would not lose again until some four years and 75 matches later, in the Paris clash with Snyder.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Snyder was having similar success growing up in the state of Maryland. A world junior champion in 2013 and bronze medalist in 2014, he won the gold in his senior world debut in 2015, making him, at 19, the youngest American world champion in history. A year later, he became the nation's youngest Olympic champion at Rio 2016.  Meanwhile, he was also attending Ohio State University, where he captured three straight NCAA titles from 2016 to 2018.

In the Paris final, the action got started early, as Sadulaev scored a takedown in the first 15 seconds with a show of nimbleness and agility. With Sadulaev on his knees and Snyder sprawling, the Russian raised up to get Snyder off his feet, then slipped to the side and around to the back for the 2 points.

Snyder cut the lead to one with a step-out at :44, but Sadulaev responded with a step-out his own to go up 3-1 a little over a minute into the match. In the final 30 seconds of the first period, Snyder used a snapdown to spin behind to make it 3-3.

In the second period, Sadulaev regained the lead with a low single for a takedown, but with 40 seconds left, Snyder cut the gap to 5-4 when a double-leg attack resulted in a step-out. As the clock started winding down, Snyder countered a tackle attempt and got behind with :34 left for the decisive points.

A year later and a year wiser in Budapest, Sadulaev kept his distance to avoid Snyder's powerful snapdown. The Russian shot for a single leg and got a firm hold on Snyder's right leg. As Snyder sprawled, Sadulaev locked up his left arm, then executed a barrel roll that sent Snyder flopping to his back. He held him down with his back on Snyder's chest and both arms locked up, before flipping onto his front and finishing off the fall at 1:10.

"Everybody knows Sadulaev is a very talented wrestler," Snyder said. "He hit me with a good move and it worked out well for him tonight."

The two share something is common beyond their wrestling acumen--they are both deeply religious, Sadulaev as a Muslim and Snyder as a Christian.

After losing to Sadualev in Budapest, Snyder was asked how the loss defined him.

"Wins or losses don't define me," he said. "I mean, I love wrestling, it's a big part of my life, but I'm not defined by the sport. I'm defined by my faith in Jesus. So no matter what happens to me on the mat, nothing really changes."

Top Stories of the Decade

Wrestling Fights its Way Back onto Olympic Programme

By Tim Foley

United World Wrestling President Nenad Lalovic speaks at the 125th IOC Session (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (January 3) – The news spread quickly. On the morning of February 12, 2013, the International Olympic Committee Executive Board voted that wrestling be eliminated from the Olympic Programme. The 2016 Rio Olympic Games would be the sport’s last as a member of the Olympic family.

By early afternoon stories had run on every major international wire and sports website informing the worldwide wrestling community of the sport’s unlikely elimination from the Olympic Games. With the information came an immediate and worldwide mobilization effort aimed at earning back wrestling’s position on the Olympic programme.

Reacting to the news, the FILA bureau met in Thailand to decide next steps. It was apparent that there had been missed signs and opportunities for organizational improvement and the bureau moved quickly to elect a new president, ultimately choosing Serbian businessman Nenad Lalovic. Two months later Lalovic was elected interim president during an extraordinary Congress in Moscow and set the tone of hard work and cooperation that would ultimately prove successful in helping the sport recapture its spot in the Olympic Games.

“What goes on in this room today and the days that follow will determine if we are an Olympic sport after 2016. We have been given a strong message by the IOC.  How we answer that message will determine if our future includes the Olympic Games.  We need to convince the IOC that we will listen to them.  We are strong enough to change,” said Lalovic.

By June there were promotional events being held around the globe. In Japan a petition was signed with more than 1 million signatures. The United States and Russia raised millions of dollars to ensure additional promotion of values, consultation for a reshaping of the sport, and the creation of marketing and media departments.

In the midst of the upheaval the wrestling community had been given an opportunity. Shortly after the 125th IOC Session in September 2013 -- where members would vote to eliminate wrestling -- there would be a second vote allowing a new sport to earn its place on the programme. Wrestling was eligible for that slot, which allowed Lalovic and the wrestling community to focus its campaign on earning enough votes to win back the sport’s position in the Olympic Games.

The IOC has requests and Lalovic -- along with newly inspired cadre of wrestling leaders -- made the changes required to comply with good governance. One of the most pressing requests was that an effort be made for greater gender equity. Wrestling answered by expanding women’s wrestling to six weight categories to match with both Greco-Roman and men’s freestyle.

Competition rules were deemed too complicated for fans to follow so a new set was developed which simplified and focused action.

Women needed more representation in leadership positions. The referee body was to be separated from bureau control. Anti-doping education and enforcement were increased, and sport presentation was professionalized. As overhauls go, the renovation for wrestling would need to be complete.

On September 8, 2013 the 125th IOC Session took account of wrestling’s myriad initiatives and improvements and voted on whether or not to allow the sport back on to the programme for 2020 and beyond.

Wrestling – who faced competing bids from Squash and Baseball/Softball -- received 49 votes in the first ballot, which was enough to be awarded its position back in the Olympic Games.

"Today is the most important day in the 2,000-year history of our sport," Lalovic told the media in 2013. "We feel the weight of that history. Remaining on the Olympic programme is crucial to wrestling's survival."

From left to right: Jim Scherr, Daniel Igali, Lise Legrand, Carol Huynh and Nenad Lalovic were instrumental in getting wrestling back on the Olympic Programme (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

With the vote wrestling returned to the Olympics, but the energy -- the drive the change --wasn’t to wane.

"With this vote, you have shown that the steps we have taken to improve our sport have made a difference,” Lalovic said in addressing media after the 2013 vote. "I assure each of you that our modernization will not stop now. We will continue to strive to be the best partner to the Olympic movement that we can be."

Since 2013 the sport has continued to improve, develop, and grow. From a modernized development department to the inclusion of more women in leadership positions, and the signing of partnership, sponsor, TV and streaming deals –progress and innovation are at the center of the sport’s future.

FILA is now ‘United World Wrestling’ an organization with fresh branding and worldwide marketing initiatives. Gone are the yellow mats, replaced with eye-friendly deep blue with orange accents. The new rules are still creating some of the most entertaining sporting moments in the world, and more women have become top-of-the-fold superstars both inside the wrestling community and in the wider sports media.

United World Wrestling President Nenad Lalovic was elected to the same IOC executive board that had voted to eliminate the sport only five years before

President Lalovic has increased participation United World Wrestling’s cooperation with the IOC and was added as a member in 2015. In 2018 he was elected to the same IOC executive board that had voted to eliminate the sport only five years before.

“We can never forget the mistakes of our past,” said Lalovic. “But at the end of the decade it’s impossible to not feel optimistic. Our sport is the strongest it’s ever been, and we are excited for the 20’s so we can showcase our wrestlers in Tokyo, Paris, and Los Angeles. Wrestling is now and will always be part of the Olympic programme.”