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Will Kyle Snyder Win Olympic Gold? 97 kg 2024 Olympic Wrestling Preview

Will Kyle Snyder Win Olympic Gold? 97 kg 2024 Olympic Wrestling Preview

A full preview with predictions for the 97 kg weight class in men's freestyle wrestling at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Jul 2, 2024 by Jon Kozak
Will Kyle Snyder Win Olympic Gold? 97 kg 2024 Olympic Wrestling Preview

The 2024 Paris Olympics will feature men's freestyle wrestling from August 8-11 with the 97 kg weight class going down from August 10-11. Kyle Snyder is Team USA's representative in this weight class and will look to become just the third-ever two-time Olympic gold medalist in America's history. Check out the article below for a full preview with predictions for this incredible Olympic weight class. 

The 97 kg Olympians

2023 Worlds

Gold - Akhmed Tazhudinov, BRN

Silver - Magomedkhan Magomedov, AZE

Bronze - Kyle Snyder, USA

Bronze - Givi Matcharashvili, GEO

5th Place - Ibrahim Ciftci, TUR

At Continentals Qualifiers

Pan-Ams - Arturo Silot, CUB

Pan-Ams - Luis Perez, DOM

African & Oceania - Mostafa Elders, EGY

African & Oceania - Nicolaas De Lange, RSA

Euros - Alikhan Zhabrailov, RUS - Zhabrailov and Abdulrashid Sadulaev ruled ineligible

Euros - Aliaksandr Hushtyn, BLR

Asians - Alisher Yergali, KAZ

Asians - Amirali Azarpira, IRI

At Last Chance World Qualifier

Erik Thiele, GER

Zbigniew Baranowski, POL

Awusayiman Habila, CHN

Replacements

Radu Lefter, MDA - replacing Aliaksandr Hushtyn

Illia Archaia/Murazi Mchedlidze, UKR - replacing Abdulrashid Sadulaev

97 kg Olympians' Accolades 

  • Akhmed Tazhudinov, BRN - 2023 World Champion
  • Kyle Snyder, USA - 2016 Olympic Champion, 3-time World Champion (2015, 2017, 2022), 2020 Olympic Silver, 2018 & 2021 World Silver, 2019 & 2023 World Bronze
  • Magomedkhan Magomedov, AZE - 2023 World Silver, 2022 World Bronze
  • Givi Matcharashvili, GEO - 2022 & 2023 World Bronze
  • Alisher Yergali, KAZ - 2022 U23 World Bronze, 2018 U20 World Silver
  • Amirali Azarpira, IRI - 2021 & 2022 U23 World Champion
  • Radu Lefter, MDA - 2021 U23 World Silver
  • Ibrahim Ciftci, TUR - 2017 U20 World Bronze
  • Erik Thiele, GER - 2016 U20 World Silver

Projected 97 kg Olympic Seeds

  1. Magomedkhan Magomedov, AZE
  2. Akhmed Tazhudinov, BRN
  3. Kyle Snyder, USA
  4. Ibrahim Ciftci, TUR
  5. Givi Matcharashvili, GEO
  6. Erik Thiele, GER
  7. Alisher Yergali, KAZ
  8. Zbigniew Baranowski, POL

Abdulrashid Sadulaev Will Not Wrestle At The Paris Olympics

Before we get into the heart of our preview of 97 kg, it’s worth starting things off by highlighting that two-time Olympic champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev will not be wrestling at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from competing in the Olympics. However, they allowed athletes from Russia to compete as Individual Neutral Athletes (AIN) as long as they were ruled eligible to compete by the Individual Neutral Athlete Eligibility Review Panel (AINERP). However, on June 15 the IOC released a list of athletes approved and Sadulaev was left off the list. Then, on June 27, United World Wrestling Announced the reallocation of 16 different Olympic spots with 97 kg earned for Russia reallocated to Ukraine. 

The Favorite

  • Akhmed Tazhudinov, BRN

With Abdulrashid Sadulaev out of the picture, 2023 World Champion Akhmed Tazhudinov is the clear favorite to win gold at 97 kg in Paris. Tazhudinov shocked everyone last year when he teched Kyle Snyder (11-0) and then defeated Abdulrashid Sadulaev (9-2), before pinning Magomedkhan Magomedov in the finals. Tazhudinov is a Russian transfer who is only 21 years old and hasn’t lost a match since February of 2023

After his performance at 2023 Worlds, Tazhudinov won the Asian Games, Yasar Dogu, and Asian Championships. In those tournaments, Tazhudinov recorded notable wins over Mojtaba Goleij (6-1), Mohammad Mohammadian (8-2), Rizabek Aitmukhan (4-2 and by fall), and Kollin Moore (11-0). The more he wrestles, the more Tazhudinov looks to be widening the gap against his opponents. He is dangerous in almost every area of wrestling and elite when his opponents are in on his legs. It’s worth noting that he did appear to be dealing with an elbow injury at the 2024 Asian Championships but if he’s healthy at the Olympics, Tazhudinov is the favorite to win gold.

Akhmed Tazhudinov's win over Kyle Snyder at the 2023 World Championships:

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The Contenders

  • Kyle Snyder, USA
  • Amirali Azarpira, IRI
  • Magomedkhan Magomedov, AZE
  • Givi Matcharashvili, GEO

After Tazhudinov, the above four wrestlers are the clear next tier at 97 kg. Kyle Snyder leads this group and is by far the most credentialed of anyone in the bracket. Along with his credentials, Snyder has head-to-head wins against a remarkable 10 of the 15 Olympians - Azarpira, Magomedov, Matcharashvili, Silot, Perez, Ibragimov, Lefter, Baranowski, Mchedlidze, and Thiele. Snyder has been one of the most consistent American wrestlers of all time medaling at every Worlds/Olympics he’s wrestled in - every year for the past 9 years!

So why isn’t Snyder considered a favorite with Tazhudinov? Along with getting teched by Tazhudinov at worlds last year, Snyder lost to Iran’s Amirali Azarpira in January at the Zagreb Open (6-3). Snyder will be a favorite to medal in Paris but will likely need to avenge his loss to Tazhudinov to reach the finals. Azarpira will also be randomly drawn into the bracket meaning Snyder could wrestle Azarpira in the very first round in Paris. With the potential of being on the same side as Tazhudinov and Azarpira, this might be the biggest challenge Snyder faces in his career to bring home a medal from the Olympics. 

Kyle Snyders shares about his desire for a rematch with Tazhudinov:

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As mentioned above, Amirali Azarpira announced himself to the rest of the world when he defeated Kyle Snyder in January at the Zagreb Open. Along with that win, Azarpira also has victories over Ibrahim Ciftci (10-0), Awusayiman Habila (10-0), and Radu Lefter (7-3). At only 22 years old, Azarpira has already won the U23 World Championships twice (2021 and 2022) but has never medaled at senior worlds. In fact, last year Azarpira represented Iran at 92 kg at the World Championships but failed to place after going 1-1 and losing to Zahid Valencia 12-9. Azarpira’s poor performance at worlds may have been due to the weight cut or lack of experience but if Azarpira wrestles his best, he’s a threat to win gold.

Amirali Azarpira's win over Kyle Snyder at the 2024 Zagreb Open:

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Magomedkhan Magomedov and Givi Matcharashvili are two wrestlers who have proven capable of bringing home hardware from the biggest stages - Magomedov is the returning world silver medalist while Matcharashvili has won bronze at the last two worlds. It’s also worth mentioning that Magomedov and Matcharashvili will be on the opposite side of the bracket as Snyder and Tazhudinov - Magomedov is the #1 seed and Matcharashvili is the #5 seed. If Azarpira is on the other side of the bracket, Magomedov and Matcharashvili are the two favorites to reach the finals. The two split matches their last two meetings with Matcharashvili winning at the 2024 European Championships and Magomedov winning at 2023 Worlds.

Matcharashvili's win over Magomedov at the 2023 European Championships: 

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Magomedov's win over Matcharashvili at the 2023 World Championships:

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Sleepers & Dark Horses

  • Alisher Yergali, KAZ
  • Zbigniew Baranowski, POL
  • Awusayiman Habila, CHN

The above three wrestlers aren’t as well-known as many of the other wrestlers in the bracket but could surprise some people and make a deep run in Paris. Kazakhstan’s Alisher Yergali has never medaled at a senior world championships but won bronze at U23 worlds in 2022 up at 125 kg. Yergali will be one of the taller 97 kg wrestlers in Paris and will bring with him experience from competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Yergali has recent wins over fellow Olympians Ibrahim Ciftci and Awusayiman Habila - with the right draw, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Yergali in a medal match.

Alisher Yergali's win over world medalist Feyzullah Akturk:

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Zbigniew Baranowski was one of the more surprising Olympians and made the Games at the final Olympic Qualifier win notable wins over Awusayiman Habila (2-2) and Ben Honis (4-2). At 33 years old, Baranowski will be one of the older wrestlers in the bracket and wrestled in the Olympics back in 2016 when he failed to place after going 1-1. Baranowski will be a tough out for anyone in the bracket and holds career wins over several past world medalists. 

Baranowski's win over world medalist Elizbar Odikadze:

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China’s Awusayiman Habila qualified for the Olympics by placing third at the final qualifier where he went 5-1 with impressive wins over Vladislav Baitsaev (6-1), Ben Honis (11-0), and Magomed Ibragimov. Along with that performance, Habila has wrestled Tazhudinov to some of his closest matches losing 7-3 at the 2023 Asian Games and 8-5 at the 2023 Ibrahim Moustafa tournament. I’m not expecting Habila to medal but I wouldn’t be surprised if he upset one or two of the veterans at the Olympics.

Habila's competitive loss against Tazhudinov: 

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97 kg Olympic Prediction - Will Kyle Snyder Win His Second Gold Medal In Paris?

Kyle Snyder will be looking to make history in Paris but he'll have his hands full against Tazhudinov and potentially Azarpira. I believe Snyder will be able to make adjustments against Tazhudinov and expect their potential semifinal bout to be much closer than what we saw last year at worlds. Despite that, I'm still picking Tazhudinov to come away with gold in Paris. Tazhudinov is as dynamic as they come at 97 kg with incredible power and amazing scrambling ability that will give him an edge over every wrestler in the bracket. If Tazhudinov wins in Paris, he has the ability to cement himself as one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the world, and at only 21 years old, he should be incredible to watch for years to come. 

97 kg Olympic Medal Predictions

Gold - Akhmed Tazhudinov, BRN

Silver - Amir Ali Azarpira, IRI

Bronze - Kyle Snyder, USA

Bronze - Magomedkhan Magomedov, AZE