top of page

U.S. wrestling team takes major step with nine medals at Tokyo Olympics

Nancy Armour USA TODAY Aug 7 2021

TOKYO -- The U.S. wrestling team left the Rio Olympics with all of three freestyle medals, just as it had eight years earlier in Beijing. The showing in London hadn’t been much better, with the Americans winning five.

To the outside eye, USA Wrestling didn’t seem to have the makings of a program on the rise. But federation officials believed differently.

“We came out of 2016 feeling like we had a lot of momentum,” Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, told USA TODAY Sports. “We thought we had a lot to build on.”

A year later, the U.S. team won nine medals at the wrestling world championships. On Saturday night, Kyle Snyder’s silver in the 97kg class and Sarah Hildebrandt’s bronze in the 50kg class gave the Americans nine medals at the Tokyo Olympics, their most at a non-boycotted Games.

The United States did win 17 medals in 1904, but that was before many countries were doing freestyle wrestling. The Americans swept four of the seven weight classifications, and took two medals in two others.

“I feel like we still could have performed even better,” said Snyder, who had one of those three medals in 2016, a gold that made him the youngest American to be Olympic champion. “But we'll keep getting better, and guys are improving. It’s cool to see.”

The U.S. men won medals in every freestyle category for which they qualified, while the women made the podium in four of the six classifications and just missed in a fifth.

“It’s a special team -- we knew that coming in, and I'm so excited to be a part of what we put together.”

The Americans have benefited from the growth of women’s wrestling. But Bender said USA Wrestling has also been more intentional about its grassroots efforts, working more closely with high school and college programs. Having the various levels more aligned means wrestlers won’t have an adjustment period when they go from wrestling in college to international competition.

A sign that’s working? Snyder was just 20 when he won gold in Rio. Gable Steveson, who won gold in the 125kg category on Friday, is still at Minnesota.

But thrilled as USA Wrestling was with the results in Tokyo, Bender said, this isn’t culmination of the effort. The American men didn’t have anyone in the 65kg freestyle category. There were only four Americans in the Greco-Roman competition. There are medals that could be upgraded.

“If you're not making improvements, you're getting left behind,” Bender said. “Obviously we will continue to keep our foot on the gas.”

After all, the Paris Olympics are only three years away.


bottom of page